MLAs and charities have welcomed plans to improve stroke care and rebuild orthopaedic surgery provision in Northern Ireland, but all warn there is more to be done.
It comes after the Health Minister set a four-month deadline for Belfast’s Musgrave Park Hospital to restore orthopaedic surgery to pre-pandemic levels.
Robin Swann announced a new recovery board to push forward with the rebuilding of services by setting timescales for enhancements in key areas.
An action plan includes a seven-day assessment service for anyone who has suffered a TIA, commonly known as a ‘mini stroke”.
“I am committed to re-building and transforming our health service and I will continue to do everything I can to address the many deep seated problems that we are facing,” said Mr Swann.
“In recent weeks, I have announced significant investment and initiatives to get more people off waiting lists, as well the development of a design plan for the future shape of our hospital network.”
The setting up of Elective Orthopaedic Hubs within the Belfast, Southern and Western Trusts seeks to provide a regional core and reduce waiting lists by ring-fencing both staff and beds.
Elective Orthopaedics has the longest, and largest, waiting lists in Northern Ireland.
At the end of March 25,526 people were still waiting for treatment.
Rebuilding plans also include increasing theatre activity and treatment sessions.
It follows an external clinically-led review into orthopaedic services here called a Getting It Right First Time (GIRFT) which Mr Swann hopes will “help turn the page on a difficult and frustrating chapter for orthopaedic surgery”.
The development of community-based services for stroke survivors, a 24/7 thrombectomy (blood clot removal) service and the roll out of Early Supported Discharge to all health trusts follows a public consultation in 2019.
Alliance Party health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw MLA warned the plans must proceed quickly to avoid more life-saving opportunities being wasted.
“As we know with stroke itself, time is essential, and that applies also to the reshaping of stroke services,” she said.
“Furthermore, the reconfiguration is tied to other long overdue reforms, such as that of the Ambulance Service.”
She also warned the action falls short of what was promised as part of a series of reforms known as the Bengoa proposals.
The Stroke Association in Northern Ireland welcomed the announcement but expressed disappointment that the introduction of hyper-acute centres of excellence will have to wait.
Associate director Alasdair O’Hara said it will “undoubtedly cause further uncertainty” for patients and healthcare workers.
Meanwhile, NI Chest Heart and Stroke’s Neil Johnston warned “people are ending up more disabled than they would have been had these changes been implemented sooner” as he called for more action.
And Sinn Fein MLA Colm Gildernew said Stormont needs to be restored if health services are to be improved, adding: “We need an Executive to be formed immediately and a three-year budget agreed.”