Edwin Poots: Health service changes difficult but necessary

Top surgeon Mark Taylor said a 'grown up conversation' was needed about the future of the NI health service
Top surgeon Mark Taylor said a 'grown up conversation' was needed about the future of the NI health service
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A former Northern Ireland health minister has warned the “structural changes” necessary to resolve the crisis in the health service are unlikely to prove popular.

DUP MLA Edwin Poots was speaking after the civil servant at the head of the Department of Health at Stormont, Richard Pengelly, warned that the health service in Northern Ireland is “heading over the cliff” without radical change.

Mr Poots said the necessary changes will prove “difficult for people”.

Speaking to the News Letter, the former health minister said: “A lot of people don’t accept that structural change is necessary, but it is necessary. There are also people who believe this is a wonderful idea until it is a unit near them that is closing.

“Ultimately, there is a limited pot of money and if you don’t rationalise these things, we will end up losing more.

“It is going to be difficult for people, but it is necessary.”

Mark Taylor, Northern Ireland director of the Royal College of Surgeons and a member of the panel that produced the ‘Systems not Structures’ report in 2016 that set out ways to transform the health service, said it is time for a “grown up conversation” about the future of healthcare.

“The Bengoa report found that, without change, the level of funding required for health would eventually require the entire bloc grant.”

The report found that the costs of health – at that time 46% of the total Stormont budget – would double by 2026/27 without change.

Mr Taylor added: “The stark options are either to resist change and see services deteriorate to the point of collapse or to embrance transformation and work to create a sustainable model.”

In August, the News Letter revealed that there are thousands more patients on hospital waiting lists in Northern Ireland than in the entirety of NHS England, despite the vast population difference between the two UK regions.

Mr Taylor said: “Waiting times in Northern Ireland are not acceptable but they are simply a manifestation of a failing system.”

Asked how the waiting lists could be improved by a transformed health service, the consultant general and hepatobiliary surgeon suggested the “scaling up” of elective care centres for non-emergency surgery, a change in the ‘profile’ of certain hospitals, and the use of “other specialists” for certain procedures such as vasectomies being performed by general practitioners.

Meanwhile, the UUP health spokesperson Roy Beggs said the “abhorrent absence” of a health minister has “greatly compounded the situation”.