A major new investment in tackling hospital waiting lists across Northern Ireland has been announced by the Department of Health.
This initiative will involve the use of £30m from the £100m health and social care transformation funding made available for 2018/19.
Details were given today at a briefing attended by a cross-party group of MLAs at Castle Buildings, Stormont.
The £30m investment will be targeted at inpatient and outpatient waiting times, with priority given to the most urgent cases and reducing the longest waits.
More details on the full £100m transformation fund allocations will be made public shortly, however the key aspects will be:
investment in the establishment of elective care centres – stand-alone day surgery units that will provide an important part of the long-term transformation solution to waiting times; supporting innovations in hospitals;
the development of enhanced primary care services in GP clinics;
initiatives in staff training, social care and countering diabetes.
Richard Pengelly, Department of Health permanent secretary, said: “The long term answer to waiting times and other major challenges remains transformation of the health and social care system. However, recognising that the transformation vision represents a 10-year agenda, we must also acknowledge that immediate action is needed on our unacceptable waiting times.
“The current waiting times are a consequence of rising demand for services set against an outdated HSC system that is no longer able to meet this demand. Transformation means organising our services more effectively - delivering more in primary care settings and reforming hospital services.”
Mr Pengelly added: “To deliver transformation, we also need to increase public trust in the system and relieve some of the pressure on our staff.
“The Delivering Together and Bengoa reports both endorsed ‘stabilisation’ through reducing waiting lists. Today’s announcement is an important step towards that goal. Further investment will be required in subsequent years to prevent any progress made being lost.”
MLAs at the department’s briefing were also told of a challenging overall financial situation facing health and social care provision in the coming year.
The recently announced health budget allocation represents a 2.6% uplift for 2018/19, compared to its full budget for 2017/18.
This allocation leaves a shortfall in relation to the projected spend required to maintain existing services. To address this shortfall, further allocations are required through in-year monitoring and/or savings measures.
Notes to editors:
- The 2016 Bengoa report emphasised the need for ‘stabilisation’ of the current system, through steps to address waiting times. Bengoa cited ‘stabilisation’ as a component in transformation, stating: “While the longer term transformation must be progressed, it will also be important to increase public trust in the system by reducing waiting times to an acceptable level.” This approach was endorsed in both the 2016 Delivering Together report and the 2017 elective care plan issued by then Health Minister Michelle O’Neill.
- A £200m health transformation fund formed part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement announced in June 2017, with the release of £100m for 2018/19 announced by the Secretary of State Karen Bradley in the recent NI budget allocations.
- The factors behind the growth in waiting times are set out in the Department’s recently published elective care update report. There has been a growing gap between the demand for assessment and/or treatment and the day-to-day capacity of the HSC to meet it. This was being mitigated by the allocation of additional funding for additional activity. The limited availability of such additional funding from 2014/15 has resulted in a marked increase in waiting times.
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