Sinn Féin and Alliance welcome hospital services overhaul plan in North

Northern Ireland has the longest hospital waiting lists in the UK and experts have warned the current structures are not sustainable.
Sinn Féin and Alliance welcome hospital services overhaul plan in North

By Cate McCurry, PA

Sinn Féin and the Alliance Party have broadly welcomed a major plan to overhaul how hospital services will be delivered across Northern Ireland in the future.

The plan, which is to be published in the autumn, will represent a significant step towards reconfiguring the region’s under-pressure health service, according to the North's Health Minister Robin Swann.

Sinn Féin MLA Colm Gildernew said his party has supported the need to sustain and develop “world-leading health services” in the North.

Describing it as a “crucial journey”, Mr Gildernew said his party will drill into the detail of how the plan will work.

The Stormont Executive has previously backed reform plans that include a restructuring of the hospital network, with a focus on creating hubs to deliver key specialisms.

Ulster powersharing
Colm Gildernew welcomed plans to overhaul the health system. Photo: Rebecca Black/PA

Northern Ireland has the longest hospital waiting lists in the UK and experts have warned the current structures are not sustainable.

“We welcome the fact that the minister had us into the meeting recently to discuss the launch of this document,” Mr Gildernew told the BBC’s Sunday Politics show.

“We will look forward to drilling into the detail around how this is going to develop and the detail will be important.

“There has been an indication that the Transformation Advisory Board will be set up. The membership of that group will be crucial in order to see the right people in the discussion and that we have everyone involved in what is one of the most crucial decisions that we will need to make here in this society.”

Mr Gildernew said the recommendations into the North’s health service as set out in the Bengoa Review states the region needs a “fair and sustainable system”.

“We absolutely support that and we will actively engage in that discussion,” Mr Gildernew added.

“What we need to see is this discussion moving from one of loss to one of opportunity.

“We need to engage with our communities, with health leaders, with staff representatives, we need to see how are we going to improve health outcomes for all of our population and address health inequalities.”

'Ambitious' plan

Alliance Party MLA Paula Bradshaw said the health plan needs to be “bold and ambitious”.

“We think it is long overdue. There are a number of reviews that the minister has now commissioned that is going to be vital in terms of getting things like agency reduction, access to GPs, general surgery reviews,” she added.

“All the boxes are ticked in that initial statement, but we have a follow-up meeting in three weeks, and we hope there will be more information going forward.

“What’s really crucial and is really different from the Bengoa process is that this new advisory board is about health service improvement and transformation, because there is no point in us reconfiguring hospital services across different sites.

“We need to ensure that the clinicians, the senior leaders within our health trust, have a direct input into how we improve the service. Because it’s only then that we will improve health outcomes.

2022 NI Assembly election
Paula Bradshaw said the design plan needs to be ‘bold and ambitious’. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA

“But there’s a second part of this. This is that there’s a recognition last week that the health service alone, the health department alone, cannot solve all the problems.

“We need our Executive up and running. All government departments have responsibility for health and wellbeing of their people, and we need to get Executive back up and running on the budget signed off so we can get these projects taken forward.”

Last week, Mr Swann said the plan would be developed with advice and input from a new Health and Social Care Improvement and Transformation Advisory Board.

“We need to change and reform how we provide services in order to deliver a better health service,” said the minister. “Without change, we will simply be condemning patients and staff to more of the same.”

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