Poots calls for health shake-up
A reorganisation of the health service in Northern Ireland is needed to address problems with timely patient care in hospitals, the health minister said.
Edwin Poots highlighted problems with x-rays and scans, undignified treatment of elderly patients at emergency departments, bed blocking and issues surrounding effective admissions.
He said too many people were still attending emergency departments who did not need to and added others were left waiting while specialist doctors decided who could treat them.
The minister addressed a world-first investigation by the Human Rights Commission into emergency health care, which began taking evidence today in Belfast.
He said: "The problem with our emergency departments is we need the social care element of it right to ensure people are discharged in a timely fashion so the availability of beds throughout the hospital system will be much greater."
He added: "Then the flow from emergency departments to other parts of the hospital will be much more responsive.
"We need to ensure that greater element of organisation at the discharge point of the hospital."
The minister said there were probably systemic issues around people who require x-rays and scans, ensuring they receive them more quickly.
The population is ageing rapidly, with more people being treated for multiple conditions by different teams of specialists.
Mr Poots said: "That can cause issues in terms of being in hospital because hospitals went down the route of specialisms."
Although recognising that specialisation was a UK-wide practice, Mr Poots said that could create issues while different doctors discussed the case.
"The patient just needs to be admitted and treated.
"Resource is an issue but better organisation can address a considerable amount of the problems we face."
The number of admissions to emergency departments increased by 3% last year.
Mr Poots said he wanted to see more direct admissions to hospital for elderly people, referred by GPs so they didn't have to join drunken patients at emergency departments which made dignified care more challenging.
The Human Rights Commission launched its public hearings following a major incident at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast after Christmas and a subsequent critical report into the emergency department by inspectors.
The panel-of-three will call medical professionals and patients during 12 public hearings.
Chief commissioner Les Allamby said: "It is about empowerment in a situation where people are in fact in a position of vulnerability and don't generally feel empowered.
"This is new territory for human rights institutions in that it is the first inquiry of its kind into accident and emergency services anywhere in the world.
"We don't have a template to operate from, we really are pioneering."
Among panel experts quizzing the minister was a former UN health rapporteur, Professor Paul Hunt, who said a human rights-based approach to care had worked well in Scotland and other places.
The inquiry is examining the quality of people's experiences in emergency departments; the final reports and recommendations to the Executive will be published in April next year.