New cataracts op centres to cut waiting lists in Northern Ireland
Up to 2,000 extra cataracts operations for improving eyesight could be carried out in Northern Ireland every year in a significant boost for hospital services, health authorities have said.
An extra 500 varicose vein procedures are also anticipated with the creation of new regional centres for day surgery, which will reduce the risk of last-minute cancellations due to bed or staff shortages.
The Department of Health said the pilot scheme, using smaller hospitals in counties Tyrone and Down, should significantly reduce waiting lists.
Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said: "The development of elective care centres is an important step in the transformation of hospital services in Northern Ireland.
"The current waiting times for hospital surgery are totally unacceptable, and elective care centres are central to our plans to eradicate this scourge on our service. Delivering services on fewer hospital sites will increase the capacity of the health system and allow us to deliver more procedures."
He added: "While this will be an important step forward, I would emphasise that additional investment is still needed to clear the significant backlog of patients who are waiting for an operation."
Prototype centres for varicose veins will be based at Lagan Valley Hospital and Omagh Hospital and Primary Care Complex; and those for cataracts will operate from Mid Ulster Hospital, Downe Hospital and South Tyrone Hospital.
They will serve patients from across Northern Ireland.
The number enduring lengthy waits for some surgical procedures in Northern Ireland was higher than in England this year, NHS statistics revealed.
Mr Pengelly said some patients may have to travel a bit further for their day surgery.
He added: "But the clear trade-off will be a significant reduction in the time spent waiting for that surgery."
He said it represented transformation in action.
BMA Northern Ireland Council chair Dr Tom Black said: "Elective care - which is essentially non-urgent surgery or treatment - can often be cancelled at the last minute due to bed or staff shortages.
"By having these services delivered away from acute hospital sites means staff are not pulled away to treat urgent cases.
"This will hopefully mean certainty for patients, who will not have their procedure cancelled at the last minute."
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said: "It is vital that a functional Executive is in place to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland and it remains my priority to see the Executive restored as quickly as possible.
"The Bill I am bringing through the House of Commons tomorrow is designed to create time for further talks with the parties towards this end," she added.