We shouldn't have to wait for better patient services
There must be a more integrated approach to providing frontline care if deficiencies in health trusts are to be addressed, writes Maeve Hully
The increase in waiting times, with all five trusts failing to meet the diagnostic waiting time target set by Minister Poots, is both disappointing and frustrating for people, and their families, who are experiencing such lengthy waits to be seen.
The publication of the June 2013 Northern Ireland Waiting List Statistics highlights the challenges ahead for Health and Social Care with patients now having to wait longer for hospital outpatient appointments, inpatient admissions and for surgery.
The number of people waiting for a first hospital outpatient appointment has increased by 14% over the last four months and, since March 2013, 12,668 more patients were waiting longer than nine weeks for such an appointment.
Lengthy waiting times remain a major concern for people not just because of the time spent waiting but also because the quality of people's lives is affected while they are waiting. People are often in chronic pain and discomfort and are not able to work as a delay in diagnosis can result in a delay in treatment. This brings added financial burden for people who are absent from work for long periods. There is also a concern that a delay in diagnosis leads to further deterioration in a condition which may have been avoided with more prompt treatment.
There needs to be a co-ordinated approach to reducing waiting times and a willingness to address the many complex issues that arise for people as a result of prolonged waiting times. Reducing waiting times should remain a priority for all health and social care providers.
The reasons why waiting times are increasing need to be addressed urgently.
There is no doubt that with an ageing population the pressures on healthcare services will continue to grow, so more effective and efficient ways of using resources and delivering services in the future need to be adopted. To address the problem of waiting times there needs to be a much more integrated approach to providing services.
Health and Social Care is undergoing major change as described in Transforming Your Care. People need to be reassured that services will be better in the future; this increase in waiting times will not give the public confidence.
It is fair to say that Health and Social Care is going through a transitional period as some services are moved from the hospital setting into the community, but people want to see light at the end of the tunnel that brings better outcomes for them.
One of the most significant service redesigns within Transforming Your Care is the establishment of 17 Integrated Care Partnerships throughout Northern Ireland which will aim to deliver care closer to people's homes.
Integrated Care Partnerships are a network of care providers which includes doctors, nurses, pharmacists, hospital specialists, service users and carers who together will design and co-ordinate local health and social care services.
People have told us that they want to be involved in the planning and delivery of their care and we welcome the fact services users and carers are going to be central.
Integrated Care Partnerships should offer a great opportunity for increased efficiency and effectiveness in the referral of patients to specialist services which should help to reduce waiting times but it is vital that the new initiatives are adequately resourced and sustained.
The potential to deliver more services locally would be of great benefit to people who have to travel long distances to hospitals where parking is difficult and outpatient clinics frequently overrun.
It is clear from Patient and Client Council work with the public to date that people recognise the current model of health and social care cannot be maintained.
The central theme of Transforming Your Care is that people will receive the right care, in the right place, at the right time. People have told us to achieve this there must be clear information, good communication and accessible patient records.