Northern Ireland health service will end up in state of non-stop crisis without reform: warning
Northern Ireland's health service could face the equivalent of a winter flu crisis all year round, an international expert has warned.
The stark message comes from Professor Rafael Bengoa, who set out a radical blueprint for reform of the health system here in 2016.
He is due to meet with MLAs today as he returns to Northern Ireland to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the NHS - a day after health officials announced a cash injection of £9.5m to help address ailing pressures on our health service.
Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Professor Bengoa, a former Basque health minister, said an overhaul of health policy was urgently required.
"If we don't transform, every month will eventually start to look like January and February," he said.
"That will not be because of the flu, but because of chronic diseases that affect older people all year round.
"Within a relatively short time, the health system will enter into crisis due to this natural demand."
In a high-profile report published in October 2016, widely known as the Bengoa Report, he urged widespread reform of the health service here.
It led former health minister Michelle O'Neill to outline a 10-year plan for improvement, which included tackling waiting lists and boosting GP practices. Millions of pounds have since been allocated for addressing waiting lists.
Professor Bengoa added: "Inevitably, demand will continue to increase sharply as people live longer lives.
"At present, too many services are based around buildings rather than being centred on what people and communities need.
"Much more care needs to be delivered in primary care settings, close to or in people's homes. That's the essence of transformation."
He said willingness and determination to change existed in abundance in Northern Ireland, despite the collapse of Stormont, which has affected decision-making across the civil service.
"Of course there will be frustration and setbacks along the way," he added.
"There is still a strong consensus for change, a deepening understanding that you can't continue with the status quo.
"I keep in close contact with Northern Ireland and I know there are some less than positive voices on the prospects for serious health reform.
"I realise too that this viewpoint is connected to the political situation and the collapse of the devolved institutions not long after our report was published.
"But I want to say that you don't have to give in to pessimism. Always remember that the situation facing health and social care in Northern Ireland is far from unique.
"Citizens and policy makers across much of the developed world are grappling with the exact same fundamental issues.
"Transformation is a long term process," Professor Bengoa added.