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Shake-up essential if we want a world class service for all

By Simon Hamilton

Published 05/11/2015

Simon Hamilton
Simon Hamilton

Yesterday I outlined my plan to transform Northern Ireland's Health Service.

I have been carefully contemplating the best way forward because we all know that change is needed and time isn't on our side.

Reports like that produced by Sir Liam Donaldson tell us that we have an excellent health service but that refusal to change will see the NHS we love run the risk of failing.

A growing and gaining population, advances in medical technology and a rise in the number of chronic conditions, combined with unprecedented financial pressures, pose perhaps the biggest threat to the founding principles of the NHS since its creation over 60 years ago.

If it does not change it will cease to be the NHS we inherited and will not be what we wish to pass on to the next generation.

Since 2011 the DUP has pumped over £750m more into health and employed 240 more consultants and 930 more nurses. Despite these improvements, pressures persist.

Northern Ireland too often specialises in doing itself down, but what has convinced me we can deliver a world class service is the talent of our people and their ability to innovate.

I want to capture the talent of our staff in a system that supports them, not one that stands in their way, so that we can achieve my aim of creating a world class health service in Northern Ireland, building upon what we are already great at, realising the enormous potential of our integrated system and obvious ability to innovate.

The reforms I am proposing aren't simply change for change's sake. They are reforms with a clear purpose. They are reforms built upon important principles that we should all agree on. Principles like:

  • Improving the quality of care.
  • Enhancing patient safety.
  • Removing layers of bureaucracy.
  • Establishing clear accountability.

No health service anywhere in the world will survive the challenges we face unless it focuses first and foremost on ensuring the highest quality and safety of care, it configures its services correctly, and has an appropriate administrative structure.

That's why I've proposed that we:

  • Cut out bureaucracy by removing layers within our system including closing down the Health and Social Care Board to promote innovation and create clearer lines of authority and accountability.
  • Appoint a panel of medical experts from Northern Ireland and across the world to consider the correct configuration of services so that we can ensure world class standards of care and the highest safety for patients.
  • Support the creation of a Health and Social Care Transformation Fund where resources would be ring-fenced for the specific purpose of positively changing healthcare delivery.

Over the last few weeks, as part of their criticism of me, other politicians said that me being out-of-post was slowing up significant strategic decisions about our health service.

The challenge now is less for me and more for them.

I've shown leadership. I've pointed the way ahead. I've taken big decisions.

After calling for big reforms will they back me in bringing about greater accountability within a streamlined system?

After complaining about growing waiting lists will they end their opposition to welfare reform and free up resources now?

We will find out if other parties have the resolve for reform or if it was all just rhetoric and opportunism.

By being bold and by being brave I believe we have the ability within our health service to not just conquer these challenges, but also build that world class service that our citizens deserve.

Belfast Telegraph

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