Health Survey (NI): First Results 2020/21

Date published: 02 December 2021

The Department of Health today published the “Health Survey (NI): First Results 2020/21” report and accompanying trend tables.

The Health Survey (NI) has run annually, on a continuous basis, since 2010/11. The 2020/21 survey included questions relating to general health, mental health and wellbeing, smoking and drinking alcohol. The sample size for the survey was 1,408 individuals aged 16 and over.


Impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on data collection:

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, data collection for the 2020/21 Health Survey Northern Ireland moved from face-to-face interviewing to telephone mode. This change may have altered how people responded to the survey.

The achieved response rate on the survey in telephone mode was lower compared with the normal face-to-face mode. This has reduced the number of cases at household and individual levels. The precision of the survey estimates in the 2020-21 year is thus reduced compared to previous years.

The demographic profile of the achieved sample has changed in comparison with previous years including more of an under-representation of people aged 16-44 and there are fewer households from the most deprived areas and more households from the least deprived areas.

Any changes within the 2020-21 data compared to previous years have to be considered in the context of all of the above. Caution should be taken in reaching any conclusions based on 2020-21 data and comparisons with previous years as the findings may not be directly comparable with previous years.

Please note that this report is based on findings for 2020/21 and as such, individual responses to some behavioural, attitudinal and health related questions may also be impacted to a degree by which Government restrictions were in place for the pandemic at the time the interviews took place. As interviews were carried out across the period June 2020 to March 2021, the figures in the report can be regarded as a representative average across the whole year.

Further details on these changes can be found in a document published alongside this bulletin, titled ‘Health Survey Northern Ireland 2020/21 - Things users need to know’.


Key Findings:


  • Four-fifths of respondents (79%) described their health as being good or very good.
  • Two-fifths of respondents (41%) reported having a longstanding physical or mental health condition; this increased with age from 27% of those aged 16-24 to 69% of those aged 75 and over.
  • Less than a third (29%) of respondents have a long-standing illness that reduces their ability to carry out day-to-day activities (similar to 2019/20).
  • Around a quarter (27%) of respondents had a high GHQ12 score, which could indicate a mental health problem (23% males; 30% females).  This was significantly higher than in 2019/20 (19% overall; 18% males and 21% females).
  • Almost two-fifths (38%) of respondents reported having concerns about their own mental health in the past year (17% definitely; 21% to some extent).  This was significantly higher than in 2018/19 (27% overall; 12% definitely and 15% to some extent).
  • Over a quarter of respondents (27%) exhibited signs of loneliness by scoring highly on the UCLA loneliness scale. Respondents living in the most deprived areas (38%) were more likely to show signs of loneliness than those living in all other areas (20-26%).
  • 12% of adults smoked cigarettes (down from 17% in 2019/20).  Smoking prevalence has fallen from 24% in 2010/11. Smoking prevalence in the most deprived areas (22%) was around three times that in the least deprived areas (7%).
  • A small proportion of respondents (5%) reported that they currently use electronic cigarettes (similar to 2019/20).
  • Four-fifths (81%) of adults aged 18 and over reported that they drank alcohol.  This was higher than in 2019/20 (77%).  A quarter (26%) of male drinkers reported drinking on three or more days per week, while this was true for 15% of females.  This was higher than in 2019/20 for both males (19%) and females (10%).
  • Of respondents who had been in contact with the health and social care system in the last year, 85% were either very satisfied or satisfied with their experience, while around a tenth (9%) were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.

This publication is a summary of the main topics included in the 2020/21 Health Survey. Further bulletins and tables will be made available on the Health Survey page on the Departmental website.

Notes to editors: 

  1. The survey was commissioned by the Department of Health and covered the period June 2020 to March 2021.
  2. The sample for the survey consisted of a systematic random sample of addresses from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) Address Register (NAR). The NAR is developed within NISRA and is primarily based on the Land & Property Services (LPS) POINTER database. The achieved response rate on the survey in telephone mode was 18% and this is a lower response compared to the normal achieved response rate of 55% in face-to-face mode. This has reduced the number of cases at the household and individual levels. At each household, everyone aged 16 or over was selected to participate in the survey. A total of 1,408 interviews were achieved.
  3. Unless otherwise specified, results relate to adults aged 16 and over.
  4. The results are based on information that has been weighted by age, sex and deprivation quintile in order to better reflect the composition of the general population of Northern Ireland. Whilst this weighting should reduce bias in the results, it cannot eliminate all forms of bias which may be present in the data. This differs from previous years where results were weighted by age and sex.
  5. As the results are based on data collected from a sample of the population, they are subject to sampling error. This should be taken into consideration when interpreting the results. Differences reported are those that are statistically significant at the 95% confidence level.
  6. The Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure 2017 (NIMDM) was used as a measure of deprivation.  The NIMDM 2017 is the official measure of deprivation in Northern Ireland.
  7. Any material used must be acknowledged and sourced to the Health Survey Northern Ireland, Department of Health. 
  8. This publication is available online
  9. Additional information is available from:
    Public Health Information and Research Branch
    Information Analysis Directorate
    Department of Health
    Annex 2,
    Castle BuildingsStormont
    Belfast BT4 3SQ
    Telephone: 028 9052 2340

10. For media enquiries please contact DoH Press Office by email:

11. Follow us on twitter @healthdpt.

12. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service For Media Enquiries Only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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