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Executive urged to unite to rescue our ailing health sector

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 19/01/2016

Janice Smyth
Janice Smyth

Health experts have called on politicians to unite and take urgent action to transform the ailing healthcare system in Northern Ireland.

Around 50 social care organisations expressed the view in a report by the Northern Ireland Confederation for Health And Social Care (NICON) - One Voice - Time For Change. In the briefing, ahead of the May elections, it said the number of people aged over 65 will increase by 25% and the population aged 85 and over will almost double.

The report also said that costs were rising by around 5-6% each year. The health budget for 2016/17 is £4.9bn, which is a rise of only 1% compared to the year before. Among the key points the collaborative briefing said that it was important to build all-party consensus on the strategic way forward, and health and social care must "not be a political football".

The NICON report is designed to brief politicians ahead of the Assembly election and it is also likely to inform a political summit on health, set to take place next month.

The main priority is to agree an action plan to implement the recommendations of two previous reports on Northern Ireland's health service.

Transforming Your Care focused on shifting care out of hospitals and into the home. The Donaldson Report published last year also made a number of recommendations, including that Northern Ireland needed four acute hospitals rather than 10.

The representative body said these challenges must be addressed and "tough choices" made. Colm McKenna, chairman of NICON, said: "Given that we spend nearly 50% of the Northern Ireland budget already on health and social care, and pressures continue to rise year on year, with an increasingly older population and people living with more complex needs, it is vital we make real progress on these issues if we are to meet the needs of our citizens," he said.

The paper also outlined the pressures the health service faced on a daily basis, including:

  • 1,000 people are transported by ambulance.
  • 2,400 children are looked after in some form of care.
  • 5,000 people are in hospital beds.
  • 12,000 people are receiving a nursing home or residential care package.

Health Minister Simon Hamilton welcomed Professor Rafael Bengoa, former Basque Country minister, to Northern Ireland yesterday. He is the chair of a panel that will consider the way forward for health care.

Janice Smyth from the Royal College of Nursing Northern Ireland said there was a feeling of positivity that change can be implemented by Northern Ireland's political leaders.

"I think the election, for health and social care, is a bit of a distraction and we would like to get to the other side of it and get on with what we need to do," she said.

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