Stormont minister backs seven-day NHS for Ulster
Stormont's Health minister said he supports a move toward a "seven-day" health service in Northern Ireland.
Simon Hamilton, who leads the devolved Executive's health department, said he looked forward to working with NHS staff and other UK administrations to deliver "positive and transformational change" to care standards.
Mr Hamilton's comments come amid debate in England on plans to boost hospital staff numbers on Saturday and Sundays.
"I very much welcome the debate started by the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt around how we can move towards a seven-day NHS," said Mr Hamilton.
"It isn't accurate to say that our Health Service doesn't operate 24/7. It does. But it doesn't to the same level that it does Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. Almost all of us will be able to recount experiences from our own lives or that of our loved ones where the standard of care received wasn't what we'd expect or, worse, wasn't maybe what would have been received on a Wednesday or a Thursday. In this day and age, that sort of disparity in service is simply unacceptable.
"Patient need doesn't dissipate because it's a weekend and the service we deliver across Health and Social Care needs to change accordingly.
"It is in all of our interests to address the issue of a seven-day service. Not only will patients see a consistent level of service but the fact that they may, as a result, spend less time in hospital means that other patients will get the care they need when they need and not have to wait.
"What is sometimes referred to as 'out of hours' is in fact the majority of the week. What I want to see is us moving progressively towards a seven-day NHS in Northern Ireland, one where patients and people don't notice a difference between a week day and a weekend.
"I await with keen interest the response of the various trade unions to the Secretary of State's call for change and I hope that they agree to engage in working towards a balanced package of affordable proposals for reform.
"Service delivery is a complex system, which involves the full range of clinical professional staff, managerial staff and support staff and I am aware of the considerable work ahead in the full development of seven-day service provision but I support the development of seven-day services, and want to work with other administrations in the UK and the medical trade unions to bring about this potentially positive transformation for the provision of health care."