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Minister hits back at critics and vows plan will 'transform health service'

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 15/11/2016

Determined: Health Minister Michelle O’Neill
Determined: Health Minister Michelle O’Neill

Ambitious plans to transform Northern Ireland's struggling health service will not be shelved, the Health Minister has vowed.

Michelle O'Neill was forced to deflect criticism from opposition MLAs during a debate in the Assembly, batting away claims her roadmap for change lacked detail, costs and failed to address concerns around uncertainty and delay.

She said: "I am determined that Delivering Together is not put on a shelf and forgotten about but it is used as intended as the roadmap for transformation.

"As the health minister I will lead this work with energy, with passion and with pace."

The minister's blueprint was in response to an independent analysis of the under-pressure system by a panel of experts led by Dr Raphael Bengoa.

The closure of hospital buildings is not envisaged in the action plan, but there will be a restructuring of the services provided by the network of existing facilities.

Last week, the minister launched a public consultation exercise on the criteria to be used when making key decisions around the reconfiguration of healthcare services

It will run longer than the normal eight weeks, to take account of the Christmas period and will include a series of meetings across Northern Ireland.

Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) health spokeswoman Joanne Dobson said that while she supported reform, the minister must provide better clarity.

She said: "So far we have a 12-month timeline for a 10-year plan with budgets at worst for one year and at best for three or four.

"If I can make one plea to the Executive today it would be this. Bring forward the detailed and costed plans for reform, back them up with a long-term budget as has happened in other regions."

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