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Unity on way forward for health service is the only way to revive it, says minister Hamilton

By Staff Reporter

Published 25/01/2016

Simon Hamilton has set up a panel of experts
Simon Hamilton has set up a panel of experts

Political agreement is needed for Northern Ireland's health service to reach its full potential, the Health Minister has warned.

Simon Hamilton said politics should be left at the door when it comes to discussing health.

He was speaking ahead of a summit to be held next month on health and social care.

In an interview with Radio Ulster's Sunday News programme, Mr Hamilton said: "We need to take politics out of it as best as we possibly can.

"I think it is incredibly important that the political parties sit down and agree in so far as they can.

"If we are to get this right and if we are to deliver the world class health and social care system Liam Donaldson says we can have, then we need to get political agreement."

A review by Sir Liam, the former chief medical officer of England, was published last January.

It made 10 recommendations, including closing local hospitals that cannot provide the highest standards of care needed 24/7.

Sir Liam was asked to look at just how effectively the Department of Health (NI) and the health trusts have been performing.

Earlier this month, a report by the Northern Ireland Confederation for Health and Social Care, called One Voice: Time For Change, painted a stark picture of the challenges facing the health service over the next decade.

It prompted more than 50 health and social care organisations to call on Stormont to take urgent action to transform the system. The report warned the number of people aged over 65 here will increase by 25%, and the population aged 85 and over will almost double.

Among its key points, the briefing said it was important to build all-party consensus on the strategic way forward, and health and social care must "not be a political football".

Mr Hamilton has set up a panel of health experts to redesign local health care services, but warned political consensus was critical.

"What I think has been the biggest barrier to the level and degree of change that we have needed in the social health care system ... has not been a lack of willingness on the part of clinicians and those within the system," he added.

"People understand that change in Northern Ireland needs to happen. We need to get political consensus around these very difficult issues or else they are not going to go anywhere."

The health panel is expected to deliver its report by the summer.

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