Belfast Telegraph

Radical overhaul is needed, health review expert warns

The health service is facing an unprecedented crisis, with staff shortages, a growing elderly population and technological advancements all taking their toll (stock photo)
The health service is facing an unprecedented crisis, with staff shortages, a growing elderly population and technological advancements all taking their toll (stock photo)

By Lisa Smyth

The man behind a major review of Northern Ireland's health service has warned waiting times will continue to rise without a radical overhaul of the system.

Professor Rafael Bengoa, who worked at the World Health Organisation for over 15 years, is in Northern Ireland this week to take part in a summit on the future of health and social care in Fermanagh and west Tyrone.

Professor Bengoa published his report in 2016.

The health service is facing an unprecedented crisis, with staff shortages, a growing elderly population and technological advancements all taking their toll.

Professor Bengoa said: "Without transformation, services will continue to deteriorate.

"More of the same means just that - longer waits for treatment, increasing pressure on staff. If you want to build reliable health care for the future, the status quo is not an option."

Professor Bengoa said to improve health and social care, it will be necessary to reduce the number of locations where some services are delivered. However, he said more services will be available in the community.

He said work is already under way in GP surgeries across Northern Ireland where patients can access a range of health professionals, including family doctors, physiotherapists, pharmacists and counsellors.

He added: "I have said before that in the face of increased specialisation and ever-rising demand, it is not practical or desirable to try to deliver specialist services everywhere.

"For some specialist hospital treatments, it's necessary to consolidate provision in regional centres of excellence.

"That helps secure improved outcomes for those accessing treatment as access to latest standards of care and sustainable staffing levels can be maintained. At the same time, there are many services that can and will be decentralised - provided closer to people's homes, in the likes of GP centres rather than in hospitals."

Professor Bengoa welcomed public consultations on breast cancer assessment services and the treatment of stroke patients.

"It's both a challenging and promising period. The pace of change has clearly been increased," he said.

"Change in health and social care can often prove difficult and controversial.

"It's the same all over the world and for good reason.

"We are dealing with vitally important and much-valued services. However, let's always remember that avoiding change is not a safe or responsible course of action."

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