Belfast Telegraph

Department of Health announces day surgery shake-up for Northern Ireland

The new plans will see routine surgeries transferred away from hospital theatres
The new plans will see routine surgeries transferred away from hospital theatres

The Department of Health has announced radical plans for day surgery hubs across Northern Ireland in a bid to tackle waiting list times.

Last October, day case surgery hubs were put in place to handle all cataract and varicose vein procedures.

The hubs, or elective care centres, are used to perform routine surgeries that would otherwise be carried out in hospital theatres.

As emergency cases are dealt with in hospital theatres, patients scheduled for routine operations can often face long waiting lists.

The new day surgery approach was one of a number of recommendations made in the 2016 Bengoa report, aimed at transforming Northern Ireland's healthcare system.

Now it will applied to a range of specialities, including general surgery, urology, paediatrics and neurology, with preferred sites to be selected for each.

The model will be the subject of a public consultation before the end of the year.

By December 2020, the Department of Health aims to transfer more than 100,000 day cases, 25,000 endoscopies and 8,000 paediatric procedures to the new model.

The department's permanent secretary, Richard Pengelly, said the new centres are a priority and a key part of tackling hospital waiting times.

"All too often at present, routine surgery has to be postponed because hospital theatres are needed for urgent and emergency cases," he said.

"By creating day surgery hubs on standalone sites away from 24 hour Emergency Departments, we can make our system more productive for the benefit of patients.

"A key issue will be the location of the centres. This will inevitably mean that some people will have to travel a bit further for their day surgery, but we will achieve significant and sustainable reductions in the waiting times for the procedures.

"Previous work suggests service users accept this trade off."

Tom Black of the British Medical Association Northern Ireland welcomed the plans, stating they were "almost inevitable" as there has been no positive change to waiting list times over the last year.

"Hopefully these plans will be developed in consultation with our members, and will make a real difference in tackling the pressure on acute services and address waiting times for patients," he added.

"We know our members are frustrated when procedures are cancelled and their patients are let down, with this reorganisation treatment will be better planned and managed and this can only have a positive effect for everyone."

The SDLP's health spokesperson, Mark H Durkan, said: "As these new centres move to specialise in specific areas through an elective care pathway in line with the Bengoa report, other locations will be free to provide the best treatment in other specific areas, should it be orthopaedics or dermatology for example.

"Whilst these new changes mean that patients may have to travel further to receive treatment, it will nonetheless significantly reduce waiting times and allow for specialists to move through waiting lists at a much faster pace."

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