Public urged to have their say on Stormont's healthcare restructuring plans
The public has been asked to have their say on Stormont plans to restructure healthcare delivery in Northern Ireland.
Health minister Michelle O'Neill has launched a consultation exercise on the criteria to be used when making key decisions around the reconfiguration of services.
Last month, Mrs O'Neill outlined a 10-year road map to transform the region's under-pressure health service.
The blueprint was the response to an independent analysis of the struggling system by a panel of experts.
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.
The minister said she proposed using seven criteria to assess if specific services need to be changed and are sustainable.
The consultation will run longer than the normal eight weeks to take account of the Christmas period and will include a series of consultation meetings across Northern Ireland.
"We are embarking on a time of major change in Health and Social Care (HSC) in the north and I want to ensure any change is carefully thought through and planned with the input of as many stakeholders as possible," said Mrs O'Neill.
"The criteria, if adopted, will be at the heart of informing future decisions to be taken about changing health services where their future delivery needs to be improved or where continuation in their present form is unsustainable.
"Where services are unsustainable, we may need to change how we manage the service, deliver better services in fewer sites, improve patient pathways or use innovative technologies to achieve better outcomes for patients across the north. All future changes will be designed with the involvement of those who use and those who provide services, and further consultation will be undertaken on specific service changes."
The minister added: "At the heart of this is the core aim of ensuring patients receive the best care available the first time, every time, even if that means travelling further for treatment, resulting in better health outcomes for the patient, with quicker recovery times and less need for follow-up care. It's so important to get the criteria right at the very beginning of the process, so that we have a clear and transparent framework for assessing how we configure services in the future.
"I encourage you to have your say. Your views are of great importance and they will be given full consideration in reaching my decision on whether to adopt the criteria which will reconfigure services in the future."
The criteria set out in the consultation document are:
:: There is evidence that the outcomes for patients using these services are below acceptable levels either in the services as a whole or in particular hospitals, or where there are safety concerns.
:: There is a clear clinical pathway for the patient population. Co-created with patient groups.
:: The service cannot meet professional standards or minimum volumes of activity needed to maintain expertise.
:: The permanent workforce required to safely and sustainably deliver the service is not available/cannot be recruited or retained, or can only be secured with high levels of expensive agency/locum staff.
:: The training of junior doctors cannot be provided to acceptable levels.
:: There is an effective alternative 'out of hospital' care model or an alternative 'shared care' delivery model.
:: The delivery of the service is costing significantly more than that of peers or of 'out of hospital' alternatives due to a combination of the above factors.