An important landmark in the reorganisation of Northern Ireland hospital services has been reached, with the announcement of new regional centres for day surgery.

From December, the new prototype elective care centres will undertake routine day surgery for cataracts and treatment of varicose veins.

Alongside providing details of their locations, the department is setting out a clear indication of the impact which they will have in terms of significantly reducing waiting lists for both procedures.

The initiative represents a significant step forward in the transformation of health care, and clearly demonstrates the benefits to patients of that process.

It’s expected that the development of prototype elective care centres will have a significant impact on the number of patients treated. For cataracts, this could mean up to 2,000 additional treatments annually, and for varicose veins, this could mean up to 500 more treatments.

This means productivity increases of up to 30 per cent in both cases.

With this improvement in productivity, combined with additional waiting list activity currently ongoing to stabilise waiting times, it’s the department’s expectation that, for patients who have been assessed as requiring treatment for cataracts and varicose veins:

  • By December 2019, no patient will wait longer than one year
  • By December 2020, no patient will wait longer than 26 weeks
  • By December 2021, all patients will be treated within the ministerial target of 13 weeks

The prototypes for varicose veins will be based at Lagan Valley Hospital and Omagh Hospital and Primary Care Complex; and those for cataracts will operate from three locations – Mid-Ulster Hospital, Downe Hospital, and South Tyrone Hospital.

In all cases, the prototypes will serve patients from across Northern Ireland. The prototypes will help inform the development of regional day-case elective care centres for all appropriate specialties.

Regional centres for routine day-case surgery will secure important progress in the efficiency and effectiveness of care. Crucially, they will operate on separate sites from urgent and emergency hospital care – meaning that they won’t be competing for operating rooms and other resources, leading to fewer cancellations of operations. While some patients may be asked to travel further for their treatment, they will be seen faster and have a better experience.

Department of Health Permanent Secretary, Richard Pengelly, said, ‘The development of elective care centres is an important step in the transformation of hospital services in Northern Ireland.

‘The current waiting times for hospital surgery are totally unacceptable, and elective care centres are central to our plans to eradicate this scourge on our service.

‘Delivering services on fewer hospital sites will increase the capacity of the health system and allow us to deliver more procedures. While this will be an important step forward, I would emphasise that additional investment is still needed to clear the significant backlog of patients who are waiting for an operation.’

He continued, ‘Some patients may have to travel a bit further for their day surgery. But the clear trade off will be a significant reduction in the time spent waiting for that surgery.

‘This is transformation in action and it is very fitting that we are announcing it almost two years to the day from the publication of the Delivering Together document.

‘I would like to thank everyone from across the system whose combined efforts have helped to bring us to this point, and who I know are continuing to work tirelessly to improve the quality and timeliness of the care we provide.’

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