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Revamp is remedy for Northern Ireland hospitals

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Mark Brotherston of the NI Conservatives

Mark Brotherston of the NI Conservatives

Mark Brotherston of the NI Conservatives

Last week Sir Liam Donaldson published his report into the health service in Northern Ireland. Inevitably, his recommendation to cut the number of acute hospitals - from 10 to four - captured most attention.

We certainly need to listen to the advice of medical professionals, who point out consistently that the most effective acute services are delivered from larger hospitals.

But a revamp of acute services will only work if the Health Minister finally gets to grips with implementing the Transforming Your Care (TYC) strategy.

Currently, hospitals are struggling to cope because they're inundated with older people and people with long-term conditions, who were supposed to benefit from TYC.

Indeed, to fund savings in health, cuts have fallen first on services in the community, which has made the problem immeasurably worse.

Sir Liam noted that Northern Ireland's health system is old-fashioned.

Services are not organised efficiently and there is a large and unwieldy management structure.

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Until there are some radical changes, patients will continue to suffer, while health service employees will feel undervalued and overworked.

The report didn't explicitly mention forming a single health trust to oversee care in Northern Ireland, but it clearly implies that the regional, bitty character of our health service is a problem.

If larger, specialist hospitals are to operate on a province-wide basis, it should be simple common sense to run them through a single trust.

Meanwhile, the Executive badly needs to implement TYC properly, including redistributing resources so that longer-term secondary care can be provided in the community, rather than parking people, who should be at home or in a local facility, in an acute hospital that is already stretched to breaking-point.

Delivering the best possible health system here will take some hard work and some brave decisions.

However, the Executive owes it to people in Northern Ireland to finally get to grips with problems in the health service.

Mark Brotherston is NI Conservatives' representative in North Down


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