Major Health Reform Announced For Northern Ireland

Health Minister Paul Goggins has announced a major reform of the way health and social care services will be delivered in the future. The main aim is to get as many people cared for in their homes and communities, rather than in hospital beds.

The Minister also pledged to eliminate trolley waits for those going into hospitals and set a maximum time for those leaving hospitals.

There was also good news for people seeking specialist drugs, with a formal link being made with the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) who advise when new drugs should be administered.

Paul Goggins said: “We have come a long way in Northern Ireland. Waiting lists were going through the roof. Many of our Trusts were drifting into financial crises. But now virtually no patient is waiting longer than 12 months for any treatment. New approaches to old problems are being successfully tried. But much more is needed.”

He continued: “We need to see people treated in their local community as far as is medically possible. When they need a hospital bed they should get one as quickly as possible. That is why I am pledging today to eliminate trolley waits. By March 2008, patients will either be treated and discharged, or admitted to a hospital ward, within four hours. Only where there are strong clinical reasons will a wait of more than four hours be permitted.”

The Minister added that between two and three hundred people a day are still waiting in hospital after they are fit to go home and added that by March 2008, no-one will remain in an acute hospital bed longer than 72 hours after they are declared fit for discharge.

He then expanded on the services required to enable the shift towards a community focus.
He said: “Is it right in this day and age, that so many people are condemned to live in Victorian style, long stay dormitories in hospital, with little dignity or privacy? Can you honestly say we are using the resources we have in the most effective way? So today I am asking Boards and Trusts to work together to develop a comprehensive reform and service improvement programme.

“It will mean many different agencies working together. It will mean intermediate care services established, bridging the gap between hospitals and community care. It will mean personalised care plans for people, which get away from numerous people making numerous separate assessments on people. It will mean much more medical prescribing by district nurses and community pharmacists.”

The Minister then outlined his plans for much more money to be spent on infrastructure, to support people being treated in the community.

Some £500m of the Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland, announced last December, will be spent on Health and Care Centres and will provide GP practices, nurse-led consultation space, diagnostic and treatment rooms for specialist services, dental clinics, accommodation for visiting practitioners including hospital consultants, allied health professionals and social care professionals, and a community pharmacy.

Paul Goggins said: “We already have three good examples of this, the Arches and Bradbury Centres in Belfast and the Kilkeel Centre. These are among the first of their kind in the UK. We have plans to build over forty Health and Care Centres. They are the future. A one stop shop.”

The Minister concluded by pledging to strengthen quality and safety. He made particular reference to the formal link with NICE which should ensure that people in Northern Ireland get similar access to specialist drugs as those in England.