Health Minister Simon Hamilton has today announced radical changes to the way health and social care in Northern Ireland is delivered.
The Minister made his comments at a Leadership Conference in Ballymena today, to an audience of over 200 senior health service staff. Speaking at the conference, the Minister said: “Since its establishment, the people of the United Kingdom have cherished the Health Service and the core principles it was founded upon. Those core principles are, I believe, facing their biggest test in the 60+ year history of the NHS. There is a real risk that if we fail to acknowledge, address and answer the multiple challenges that are before us, future generations will not have a Health Service like the one we did. They will instead inherit something far removed from the Health Service we know and love.
“Since 2011, we’ve have been able to employ 240 more medical and dental consultants, 930 more nurses and 460 more allied health professionals. Yet pressures persist.
“I am certain that Northern Ireland can have a world class Health and Social Care system. What isn’t in question is the ability of our staff or their personal capacity to innovate but rather the suitability of the system they work within to make the most of their talents.
“From conversations I have had with clinicians it is clear that many feel that our commissioning system doesn’t work, they don’t understand it and, worst of all, it actually inhibits innovation. Our commissioning system isn’t as effective as we need it to be. Whether this is because of shortcomings in the model or in its implementation is immaterial.
“We have too many layers in our system. I want to see the Department take firmer, strategic control of our Health and Social Care system with our Trusts responsible for the planning of care in their areas and the operational independence to deliver it.
“What I am signalling is an end to the current way we commission healthcare in Northern Ireland. It has not worked and arguably is never going to work well in a small region like ours. I propose that we close down the Health and Social Care Board. This is about structures, not people. The Board has many talented people working within it, doing many important things to a very high standard. But the administrative structures created during the last Assembly term do not serve us well especially as they blur the lines of accountability and weaken authority.
“I will retain a Public Health Agency that renews its focus on early intervention and prevention. I will ensure a much greater focus within the Department on the financial and performance management of the Trusts through the creation of a specific directorate within the Department.”
In response to recommendation 1 in Sir Liam Donaldson’s Report the Minister said: “I am not in public service to hand over lock, stock and barrel, the future of Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland entirely to outsiders to take decisions without any democratic fail safe or local input. I will therefore be appointing a panel to lead the debate on the best configuration of Health and Social Care services in Northern Ireland which will draw on the experience of people working in Northern Ireland, but use international expertise as appropriate.
“I want a clinically led conversation to advise us what the services the people of Northern Ireland should expect from their Health and Social Care system.
“We need to see what world class would look like. I want all of us to see what is possible. But more importantly I want us to see if we are prepared to take the decisions required to achieve a world class Health and Social Care system. I want what is best done locally, done locally. And what needs to be done regionally, done regionally.
“I have spoken before of my view that the biggest barrier to reforming our Health and Social Care sector isn’t the view of the public or our staff or even resources. It is the reticence of our politicians to take the tough decisions. To make the big calls. To set aside party differences and do what is ultimately right for the standard and safety of care our people receive.
“It is my intention to convene a summit involving the other parties to allow others to input their ideas, suggest their solutions and, I hope, collectively reach agreement on a shared vision for the future of Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland.”
Minister Hamilton concluded: “I have indicated consistently over the last number of weeks and months that immediate pressures surrounding waiting lists and our emergency departments can only be resolved with the injection of funding as quickly as possible. The loss of over £200million during the last two years in penalties because of the failure to implement welfare reform has affected thousands of vulnerable people who have not been able to obtain the operations they desperately need. A resolution of welfare reform must mean more funding for Health so that we can begin again to tackle waiting lists and prepare for the winter.
“I will pursue a significant increase in Health spending on Northern Ireland in the next Budget. I want to take a sizeable amount of any additional funding my Department receives as part of the Budget process and earmark it specifically for a Health and Social Care Transformation Fund.
“We will find out if other parties have the resolve for reform or if it was all just rhetoric. By being bold and by being brave I believe that we have the ability within Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care system to not just see off this existential threat but also build that world class service that our citizens deserve.”