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Role of Public Health Agencies

The roles of public health agencies with respect to surveillance of human infectious disease are outlined below.

Department of Health and Children (DOHC) and Health Service Executive (HSE)

The DOHC is responsible for policy development, legislation, regulations and production of advisory documents. There are four HSE Regions (Western, Southern, Dublin/North East and Dublin/Mid-Lenster) with statutory responsibility for the provision of health care and protection of health in their functional areas. Prior to 1st January 2005, the HSE Regions were made up of 10 Health Boards. HSE Directors of Public Health, who also have the function of Medical Officers of Health (MOH), have statutory responsibility for the investigation and control of infectious disease and environmental hazards in their region. Environmental health officers (EHOs) have statutory responsibility for food safety inspections at retail, catering and some processing level. There are over 50 clinical laboratories providing diagnostic microbiological services for human samples, and 7 public health laboratories which provide specialist microbiological services for food samples.

Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC)

The HPSC is the national specialist centre for surveillance of communicable diseases. The aim of the HPSC is to improve the health of the Irish population by the collation, interpretation and provision of the best possible information on infectious diseases. The HPSC is responsible for the surveillance of all infectious and notifiable diseases and also all outbreaks of infectious disease, including infectious intestinal disease outbreaks (enteric, foodborne and waterborne outbreaks). It is also responsible for the co-ordination of national, cross-border and international outbreak investigations and provides epidemiological support to the HSE if required.

The HPSC was established in 1998 conjointly by Ireland's HSE (previously health boards) and with the approval of the Minister for Health and Children. The HPSC was known as the National Disease Surveillance Centre (NDSC) before 1 st January 2005.

National Salmonella Reference Laboratory (NSRL)

The NSRL was established in January 2000, in the Department of Bacteriology, National University of Ireland, Galway . The NSRL collects isolates of Salmonella and data from all positive human faecal and blood samples and on food samples and veterinary isolates in Ireland. By assembly of all Salmonella isolates from humans in a single laboratory and by application of specialised laboratory techniques (phage typing, extended antimicrobial susceptibility testing and when appropriate, genetic typing) the NSRL adds a national public health dimension to the work of the clinical laboratories.

Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI)

The FSAI is an independent, consumer protection agency accountable to the Minister for Health and Children, set up in 1999. The principal function is to ensure compliance with food safety legislation and to ensure that food produced, distributed or marketed in Ireland meets the highest standards of food safety and hygiene reasonably available. The FSAI is responsible for the co-ordination of inspection services and the certification of food. It is involved in the co-ordination of the investigation of national, cross border and international outbreaks where foods are implicated and is the national contact point for the European Rapid Alert System of Food and Feed (RASFF). The FSAI carries out its enforcement functions through ‘service contracts’ with official agencies.

Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF)

In Ireland DAFF is the Department of State accountable to the Minister with responsibility for enacting legislation relating to zoonoses (diseases of animals that can be transmitted to man) and for providing the necessary resources to ensure their monitoring and control. DAFF is responsible for implementing the necessary controls on farms, and is also responsible for implementing regulatory controls at production/processing plants, through specific measures set out in 'service contracts' to the FSAI. In terms of its policy function, DAFF may be advised by the FSAI on scientific questions of relevance to the policy choices. Under the powers of the Diseases of Animals Acts, 1966 to 2001, veterinary inspectors can legally enter and inspect all farms where animals and poultry are kept. As part of its zoonoses control programme, DAFF carries out surveillance programmes to test for the presence of such pathogens on a wide range of animal products.

Safefood, the Food Safety Promotion Board

safe food, the Food Safety Promotion Board is an all-island public health protection body set up in 1999 under the terms of the Belfast Agreement. Among its key functions is surveillance of foodborne disease on an all-island basis. The Board assesses and analyses surveillance data, identifies surveillance priorities and promotes collaboration. It is responsible for scientific assessment of the food supply, the promotion and support of food safety research, and the development of laboratory linkages and specialized laboratory services. Moreover, the Board develops and implements programmes to increase awareness of the risks of foodborne disease and poor nutrition, in order to change practices and habits for improved public health.


Last reviewed: 18/3/2009