Health Minister Robin Swann has announced important initiatives to support the rebuilding of hospital services while protecting patients and staff from Covid-19.
The plans will see Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn becoming the location for Northern Ireland’s first Day Procedure Centre.
It will become a hub for less complex planned (elective) day surgery and procedures. The development of Lagan Valley as a regional day procedure centre will be carried out in a phased way in order to minimise the impact on existing service users. In relation to the Emergency Department at Lagan Valley, the layout of the site means that the two services can be managed separately without impacting on each other.
In a further initiative, Musgrave Park Hospital and Altnagelvin Area Hospital will be designated hub sites for orthopaedic procedures. The rebuilding of orthopaedics at these sites following the first Covid-19 surge will be incremental, with a longer term aim to develop a region-wide network of orthopaedic practice, based on an alliance of the existing orthopaedic units.
Waiting times in Northern Ireland for Orthopaedic Surgery are among the worst in the UK, with patients waiting up to four or five years for operations such as hip replacements.
This situation has been further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which led to the halting of most elective orthopaedic procedures. This was done on grounds of patient safety and to concentrate resources on dealing with the virus.
Mr Swann said the new initiatives announced today are interim measures that will help inform the development of province-wide new models of care.
“The decisions point to a new future for our health service with specialist centres of excellence playing a key role. However, we are not there yet. My immediate priority is to get hospital services back up and running as quickly as possible, while also keeping patients and staff safe from Coronavirus.
“That is why I am moving ahead with these interim decisions. Whilst I have stepped outside normal consultation arrangements on this occasion, the implementation phase will allow for the relevant Trusts to carry out engagement and consultation with patients, trade unions and professional bodies. I also give an assurance that any permanent changes to the way services are delivered will be subject to full public consultation and engagement.”
The Health Minister continued: “These are vitally needed decisions that will facilitate the re-building of hospital services. Tackling our appalling waiting times remains a top priority for me.
“Establishing ring-fenced hubs for daycase and orthopaedic procedures is part of our long-term strategy for reducing waiting lists. It is also very important for infection control purposes. The approach is also in line with the direction of travel for our health service mapped out by the Bengoa and Delivering Together reports in 2016.
“The aim is to develop regional planning and regional waiting lists, so that patients can more easily and quickly access care across different Trust boundaries.”
Having dedicated treatment centres in place will also help the system cope with potential further waves of the pandemic, boosting the prospect for greater continuity of non-Covid services.