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NI waiting lists could cost £1bn to resolve, reveals health chief

Richard Pengelly
Richard Pengelly

By Mark McConville

Up to £1bn could be needed to eradicate waiting lists in Northern Ireland, a senior health official has warned.

The stark warning came from Richard Pengelly, the permanent secretary of the Department of Health, as he issued a progress update on the transformation of health and social care.

He said that without reform, problems in the health and social care system here "will get worse year on year".

Mr Pengelly launched the progress report on health and social care transformation, which began in 2016.

"We were very clear at the launch of the transformation strategy two-and-a-half years ago that it will not eradicate waiting lists," he told the BBC.

"The only way we will do that is by a very large injection of cash and we would estimate that to be somewhere between £700m and £1bn."

Earlier, the Department stressed that vital health reforms are delivering real change but must continue if waiting lists and staffing pressures are to be tackled.

Mr Pengelly said: "Today's report is a testament to the commitment and excellence of our staff right across the system.

"We clearly still have a long way to go, with serious challenges right across Northern Ireland. Too many people are waiting too long for care and staff are under immense and growing pressure.

"These problems are serious symptoms of an outdated health and social care system that cannot keep up with growing demand. Without reform, they will get worse year on year.

"The long term answer to hospital waiting lists involves reshaping services to improve capacity and provide more diagnoses and treatments," he added.

"Likewise, staffing pressures are clearly linked to services being spread too thinly across too many locations.

"Without reform, staffing challenges will keep growing and bills for agency and locum cover will continue to climb."

The update report on Delivering Together details examples of projects taken forward and supported by transformation funding.

Public consultations are being held on reshaping stroke and breast assessment services with reviews underway in urgent and emergency care, oncology, neurology, paediatrics, and day surgery.

Another major initiative involves the rolling out of Multi-Disciplinary teams at GP surgeries.

Dr Alan Stout, chair of BMA Northern Ireland's GP committee said: "It is still early in the process, but we are starting to see some changes and benefits on the ground, particularly in the initial MDT areas in general practice, which is encouraging to both doctors and patients.

"As transformation progresses, there will be difficult and challenging conversations about the best way for services to be delivered."

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