Health Minister publishes update on waiting list progress

Date published: 24 February 2022

Health Minister Robin Swann has provided an interim update on actions to tackle Northern Ireland’s hospital waiting lists.

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The report published today, outlines the progress that has been made in the last six months on the Elective Care Framework which is Northern Ireland’s blueprint for tackling hospital waiting times.

Although health and social care services continue to be impacted by the continuing pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report has highlighted that significant progress has been made in some areas.

Health Minister Robin Swann, said: “In a relatively short period of time we have been able to make good progress and made some very significant developments that not only have the potential to reduce the number of people on our waiting lists, but also improve how services are delivered.

“We must remember that our waiting lists were dire before the pandemic and COVID has only served to worsen the situation. Therefore, it is only through a continuous and sustained focus on ensuring effective implementation of all these arrangements that improvements will be secured.”

The report outlines a number of initiatives that have been introduced where the extent of the impact is already clear. For other actions, the report notes that the impact will be easier to assess in the longer term once processes have been embedded. 

Highlights in the report include:

  • A new combined fracture orthopaedic and general rehabilitation model which has saved 4,718 acute bed days since being introduced at the start of September 2021.
  • An additional 144,921 Out Patient/ Allied Health Professional assessments, diagnostic tests and IP/DC procedures have been delivered through the Waiting List Initiative and 4,225 other procedures carried out through the Heads of Terms agreement and Lagan Valley Hospital Day Procedure Centre. Also 8,541 outpatient assessments and day case procedures have been delivered by GP Federations in primary care settings. In total 157,687 patients have benefitted from this additional investment.
  • The Waiting List Initiative has included, for example, the development of mega clinics. Of the 144,921 procedures delivered, over 4,800 of these patients have been seen at pace in Mega Clinics for a range of conditions including cataracts, and orthopaedic conditions such as Scoliosis, Foot and Ankle, Hip & Knee and Upper Limb. More mega clinics are due to take place in the coming months.  
  • The introduction of temporary, enhanced pay arrangements for targeted shifts and priority activities which support the Elective Care Recovery Initiative has been an important factor in the delivery of mega clinics. 
  • The establishment of a new Elective Care Centre Management Team, which has also meant that between August 2021 and the end of December 2021, over 900 priority patients were treated at the regional Day Procedure Centre at Lagan Valley Hospital, across a range of surgical specialties. The Centre has also continued to support the region at weekends for urology and endoscopy procedures. Between August 2021 and end December 2021, around 4,000 patients in total were treated.
  • Since reinstating the Cross-Border Healthcare Directive in July 2021 there have been 1,864 applications to the scheme, with 1,470 of these being approved. The Directive allows patients to seek and pay for routinely commissioned treatment in the private sector in ROI and have the costs, up to the cost of the treatment to the HSC in Northern Ireland, reimbursed. This has the potential to reduce waiting lists in Northern Ireland without any increase in costs.

Concluding Minister Swann, said: “This is just the beginning of a journey to tackle the lengthy waiting lists for elective services in Northern Ireland but I want to recognise the contribution and commitment of our healthcare teams who have made significant strides in the last six months.

“We know that we have a huge mountain to climb and that substantial investment is required but together with Ministerial and Assembly colleagues we must do everything in our power to address this issue for people in Northern Ireland.”

The full report is available on the Department of Health website and it is intended that a further report will be published after the first full year of implementation.

Notes to editors: 

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