Health system needs to change, says senior NHS official

The existing healthcare system in Northern Ireland is unsustainable, a professional has warned.
The existing healthcare system in Northern Ireland is unsustainable, a professional has warned.
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The health care system in Northern Ireland is unsustainable without real change, a senior NHS official said.

Rising demand for services and increasing cost can only be tackled through making better use of technology and care at home, a conference on innovation in Belfast heard.

Colm McKenna, chairman of the Northern Ireland Confederation for Health and Social Services (Nicon), said: “Health and Social care is facing an unprecedented time of change. The only choice we have is to embrace change, or resist and deal with failure.

“We will need visionary political leadership, strong management and the support of the public to deliver good care into the future - the existing system is not sustainable.”

Mr McKenna addressed an audience of 350 leaders from health and social care, politicians, patient groups and businesses.

The health service is already making increased use of ICT for storing medical records and is exploring ways of using technology to make treatment in the community easier.

Mr McKenna is chief executive of the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust which runs services including the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald.

“It is now time for picking up the pace on implementation and increasing our focus on innovation. We need to look to people right across the system, to help support change,” he said.

“While we know we need to exercise real care in how we transform our services - we must learn from colleagues right across the globe to do the right things for our citizens.

“Yes of course there will be risks, but there is no greater risk than doing nothing.”

He called for improved out of hours services and said many patients believed round the clock care was only available from hospital emergency departments.

A major incident was declared at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital earlier this year due to a large backlog of patients at the A&E department.

The hospital said additional staff had to be called in and extra beds opened to relieve pressure on the unit.

At one stage, 42 people were waiting on trolleys and staff described the situation as “horrendous”.

Health minister Edwin Poots and finance and personnel minister Simon Hamilton addressed the Nicon conference.

Mr Poots said: “The recent difficulties in our emergency departments make me even more determined to ensure our services are sustainable.

“It is only by re-shaping the model of care to deliver more services in primary and community care that we will be able to effectively tackle these challenges.

“This re-shaped model of care is at the heart of Transforming Your Care (TYC) and is at the heart of my vision for our health and social care services.”

Mr Hamilton said he supported reform across the public sector.

“It is well known and accepted that the demand for health services is increasing and the current model is becoming unaffordable.

“We therefore need to plan for how we can do things differently, whilst maintaining the quality and safety of services.”