Funding to help Northern Ireland health service in winter up by 30%
A fund set aside to tackle winter pressures in the health service will rise by 30% this year.
Some £10.784m has been earmarked to deal with additional issues facing the sector over the coming months.
That is a 31.7% rise on the £8.184m spent last winter on top of normal expenditure.
The funds will go towards delays in people being discharged, improving patient flow and boosting ambulance turnaround times.
Details of the additional funding were outlined in a letter by Richard Pengelly, permanent secretary in the Department of Health, to SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan.
The additional funding for the coming winter will be allocated across the five health trusts:
- The Belfast Trust will receive £2.635m;
- The Northern Trust will be allocated £2.688m;
- The South Eastern Trust will receive £2.005m;
- The Southern Trust is in line for £1,667,000, and the
- Western Trust will receive £1.789m.
In addition to this, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service has been allocated an extra £723,000 to deal with winter pressures.
In his letter, Mr Pengelly states: "The department has asked the Health and Social Care Board/Public Health Agency to coordinate the production of strategic resilience plans for winter 2018/19.
"In addition to addressing key lessons learnt from the reviews of the 2017/2018 resilience plans, the plans will focus on tackling delayed patient discharge, achieving efficient patient flow by delivering care in appropriate settings and improving ambulance turnaround times at emergency departments."
Mr McCrossan, an MLA for West Tyrone, said the extra funding is a positive step. However, he added it must be focused on preventing lengthy waiting times in emergency departments across Northern Ireland.
"I welcome the department's move to increase its winter pressure budget by over 30%," he said.
"I also welcome extra funding for our Ambulance Service which is also facing extreme pressures in attending call outs and meeting response times. Winter brings substantive pressure to the health and social care system with many more people attending A&E due to falls, breaks and other illness."
Mr McCrossan said there had been crisis conditions in emergency departments in recent winters.
"This is unacceptable, especially for the frail and elderly, and I do not want to see the same happen this winter period," he added.
A health service source said: "A&E pressures are a serious symptom of the challenges facing health services in many countries. We have growing numbers of older people in society, so demand for care keeps rising.
"Funding is part of the answer but only part of it. We have to organise services differently and that's a long-term job."