Swann sets out health service winter planning

Date published: 26 October 2022

Health Minister Robin Swann has warned that Northern Ireland’s health and social care system is facing another extremely difficult winter.

The Minister today updated MLAs on the winter resilience planning being undertaken across the system. These plans involve a range of actions across secondary care, social care, primary care, workforce, vaccination programmes, COVID-19 testing, and COVID-19 treatments. The detailed update was provided in a Written Ministerial Statement to the Assembly.

Mr Swann also appealed to the public to support health and care staff as they work through severe pressures.

He said: “Health and social care services have been under extreme stress and are likely to remain so for a considerable period. The pressures we used to see mainly in winter months are now being experienced all year round. With winter approaching, those pressures are likely to worsen with COVID-19 cases expected to rise, alongside increased levels of flu and other respiratory infections.

“We can all play an important role in supporting our staff this winter. That includes getting our COVID-19 and flu vaccine jabs if eligible. Please use health and care services appropriately and remember that hospital emergency departments are for conditions that are urgent and/or life threatening. Please also co-operate with hospital discharges when you or a family member are medically fit to leave hospital.

“I would also appeal to everyone to respect health and social care staff as they care for us during this extremely difficult period.”

The Written Ministerial Statement includes details of financial allocations that will help sustain operational resilience across health and social care. These include funding support packages put in place for primary care and social care as well as a £30m allocation to Trusts to mitigate financial pressures. A £5.3m funding package is also being finalised for community pharmacy.

Maximising available hospital and community bed capacity is also a key priority, with details provided of plans to increase hospital bed numbers.

The Minister continued: “The focus for the system this winter is two-fold: to effectively manage and coordinate unscheduled care, whilst also protecting elective care services to the  greatest possible degree.

“In terms of unscheduled care, my Department has established a multi-disciplinary Unscheduled Care Management Unit to implement a robust system approach to managing unscheduled care demand.

“A whole system approach is being taken to improve patient flow between hospital and community. This includes improving discharge pathways for those patients in Emergency Departments who require hospital admission. To finalise these regional winter planning arrangements, the Department is hosting an Unscheduled Care Summit with service providers on 9 November 2022.”

Today’s Assembly statement also detailed plans for longer-term reforms flowing from the public consultation on Urgent and Emergency Care. The Department’s response to this public consultation has today been published.

Notes to editors: 

  1. The Written Ministerial Assembly statement is available on the Department website.
  2. Response to the public consultation on Urgent and Emergency Care is available on the Department website.
  3. Unscheduled care refers to unplanned medical needs, which can largely be broken down into two categories: urgent care and emergency care.  Urgent care refers to illness or injury that requires urgent attention but is not a life-threatening situation.  Services may be provided via hospital at urgent care centres or minor injuries units, pharmacy advice or in and out of hours GP services.  Emergency Care refers to life threatening illnesses or accidents which require immediate intensive treatment. Services that should be accessed in an emergency include ambulance (via 999) and hospital Emergency Departments.
  4. For media enquiries please contact DoH Press Office by email: pressoffice@health-ni.gov.uk
  5. Follow us on Twitter @healthdpt
  6. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays.  The duty press officer can be contacted on 02890378110.

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