Experts present proposals for restructuring of health service
Political parties have been issued with a list of proposed principles aimed at restructuring the ailing health service as the Health Minister warns there are "a lot of tough choices" to be made.
An expert panel led by world renowned expert on health reform, Professor Rafeal Bengoa, yesterday presented the cross-party delegates with the list of 16 principles for change at a political summit.
They now have a week to consider the proposals and respond to the panel which consists of six members.
It will then report to Health Minister Simon Hamilton in June. If they are agreed, they will form the basis of the terms of reference for the experts. However, there have been calls to ensure that the report will not just be left sitting "on the shelf".
During the four-hour meeting which was closed to the media, the list of the principles were not made public.
However, Prof Bengoa said they centred around ensuring Northern Ireland "enjoys a public NHS-type system it has but with new delivery models".
The panel was suggested by Sir Liam Donaldson in his 2015 report which said there were too many hospitals and expertise was too thinly spread. It highlighted duplication and called for a simpler, more efficient system.
Sir Liam said the panel should be international and it should be agreed in advance to accept its proposals.
However, Mr Hamilton did not agree, saying the panel should be mostly local and there would be no upfront agreement to accept its findings.
Prof Bengoa is also a former health minister for the Spanish Basque Country and has given advice to the Obama administration.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Hamilton described the meeting as "positive".
"There is no other region in Europe where this discussion is going on," he said.
"There are a lot of tough choices to be made if we are going to conquer the challenges of the demographics of an ageing and growing population and the rise in chronic conditions they are living with."
Mr Hamilton added: "The message from the expert panel was you cannot conquer those challenges with the current system in Northern Ireland and we need to change.
"This need to conquer those long term challenges I think requires us to agree as far as we can and as best as we can right across political parties.
"The prize of doing that is getting a world class health and social care service in Northern Ireland and that prize is much bigger than petty, political point scoring."
Prof Bengoa said Northern Ireland needs to embrace change.
"We are not trying to avoid politics in health, we are actually embracing politics in health.
"We are trying to say if we are all on board we can do something really hard."
He added: "The principles are around making sure Northern Ireland enjoys a public NHS-type system it has but with new delivery models in health and social care so that the delivery models offer better quality, better patient care and safety and are also more efficient."
Sinn Féin MLA Maeve McLaughlin, who is also the chair of the Health Committee, said she welcomed the moves.
"We need to move to a genuine public health model that is based on targeting health inequalities.
"Sinn Fein will continue to meet with the panel to ensure this does not just become another report on a shelf but will have a measurable and deliverable timeframe for implementation," she said.