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Simon Hamilton: 'Long journey' to reform Northern Ireland healthcare system

Published 11/11/2015

Health minister Simon Hamilton said implementation of radical reforms to reconfigure services would be a lengthy journey requiring legislative changes
Health minister Simon Hamilton said implementation of radical reforms to reconfigure services would be a lengthy journey requiring legislative changes

It could take a decade to transform Northern Ireland's struggling healthcare system, Simon Hamilton has warned.

Implementation of radical reforms to reconfigure services would be a lengthy journey requiring legislative changes, the Health Minister has said.

Giving evidence to Stormont's health scrutiny committee, the DUP MLA said: "This is a long journey.

"This is an enterprise which is not going to be complete by the end of this Assembly term. It probably won't even be complete by the next Assembly term.

"This is a journey that could take us as much as two Assembly terms or 10 years to get that world-class health and social care system which I hope we all aspire to create."

Last week Mr Hamilton announced a major shake-up including closure of the Health and Social Care Board and the appointment of a panel of experts to re-design health and social care facilities.

He also revealed plans to set up a transformation fund to pay for cost-saving initiatives.

The board, which employs about 470 people, commissions services for the six health trusts that deliver the NHS.

Some trade unionists said the measures would leave staff worrying for their futures while others argued that commissioning was wasting up to 15% of the health budget each year.

Mr Hamilton, a former finance minister, remained tight-lipped about how much money he would be seeking to make the changes - the most wide-ranging for five years.

Sinn Fein MLA Maeve McLaughlin, who chairs the committee, said the 10-year time frame for reform could be risky.

She said: "The risk in the sense that potentially you have similar type structures in place; a risk that public confidence may erode over the period of such a length of time; a risk in that you may have staff and structures in place that don't know what the next step will be.

"Ten years is a sizeable period of time."

Meanwhile, Alliance Party MLA Kieran McCarthy said the 10-year prediction was "scaring the hell" out of people.

The minister conceded that some changes, which did not require legislation, could be implemented with a more immediate effect and hoped the panel of experts could be appointed within a matter of weeks.

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