We get the health service we pay for, conference is told

Date published: 25 November 2022

Fundamental questions need to be addressed on the future of our health service, Department of Health Permanent Secretary Peter May has today stated.

The Permanent Secretary was speaking to the annual conference of the Northern Ireland Branch of the Healthcare Financial Management Association in Belfast.

His keynote speech detailed both the severe pressures facing Northern Ireland’s health and social care system and the opportunities to make improvements.

Mr May said: “Fundamental questions are waiting to be addressed on the future delivery and funding of health and social care.”

He also stated: “Ultimately, we get the health service we pay for.  Without sustained investment, we will need as a society to recalibrate our expectations of what our health and social care system can deliver. We all want to get back to a health service that provides timely care to everyone who needs it when they need it. That’s far from guaranteed. Without sustained funding, it will be impossible.

“Of course, there are many actions big and small we must take as a system to make health and social care more efficient and effective. We all know this. The recently announced drive to reduce agency staff costs is one example of what needs to be done. We know reconfiguration of hospital services can secure better care and deliver more value to the taxpayer.

“However, we must not pretend that efficiencies alone will close the widening gap between demand and capacity.”

The Permanent Secretary also told the conference: “It is often said that you can judge a society by the way it treats the most vulnerable and sick. The reality is that today, with the resources available to us, we are finding it increasingly difficult to deliver the health and social care system needed to meet all the demands of the population.  And the reality is also that our ageing population and advances in medical science mean the gap between demand and capacity is growing year on year, winter on winter."

He continued: “Those who work in Health and Social Care are hugely committed to doing the best they can.  It remains the case that the overwhelming majority of the most sick patients receive very high quality care.  At the same time, many people requiring less time-critical care are having to wait much longer – often in pain and discomfort. This is not the level of care that the public expects or that any of us wants to provide.”

Mr May stressed the importance of not losing hope in face of the current challenges, and pointed out that “amazing things still happen every day in health and social care in Northern Ireland”.

Full speaking notes for the Permanent Secretary’s speech are available online.

Notes to editors: 

  1. Photo caption: Owen Harkin, HFMA President and Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Finance & Estates, Northern Health and Social Care Trust; Maureen Edwards, Chair HFMA NI and Finance Director, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and Permanent Secretary Peter May.
  2. For media enquiries please contact the DoH Press Office by email pressoffice@health-ni.gov.uk.
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