Belfast Telegraph

Health strike: Reform should have began in Northern Ireland healthcare system 10 years ago, says Bengoa

Michelle O'Neill with Rafael Bengoa
Michelle O'Neill with Rafael Bengoa

The author of a major review of the Northern Ireland health service - which recommended wide scale reform - has said Northern Ireland is already a decade behind in terms of its transformation.

Professor Rafael Bengoa was speaking as thousands of nurses took to picket lines across the country.

He said the current health crisis in Northern Ireland is a result of 10 years of under investment.

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His October 2016 report urged widespread reform of the health service in Northern Ireland.  It was one of a number of reports recommending comprehensive change.

Report author Professor Rafael Bengoa
Report author Professor Rafael Bengoa

It led to former health minister Michelle O'Neill outlining a 10-year plan for improvement, which included tackling waiting lists and boosting GP practices.

The former Basque Country government minister, who spent 15 years with the World Health Organisation, told the BBC's World at one, that the problems facing the health service were a symptom of under investment throughout the whole NHS in the UK.

"I don't want to dilute what is happening in Northern Ireland but the pressures on the system are everywhere because we haven't transformed healthcare in order to deal with the growing pressure," he said.

"It is logical to say that it is first felt by nursing, they are felt in emergency care, they are felt in primary care, because that is where you get all this pressure.

"The important thing is that it is happening in Northern Ireland first, but it is beginning to happen everywhere.

"There are signs of having under invested in health and social care in the last 10 years.

"What is happening is a bit like the climate change. We are reacting too late to something which we should have done 10 years ago."

The health service is facing an unprecedented crisis, with staff shortages and dispute over pay parity for nurses leading to health unions calling industrial action.

Politicians have called on the secretary of state and civil service to implement pay parity in a bid to end the industrial action.

The civil service has explained that the implications of enacting pay parity has far reaching and long term consequences for the Northern Ireland budget. A decision could also set a precedent for other sectors, such as education, therefore any decision would need a local administration to fully consider.

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