Health Minister Robin Swann has announced that a design plan will be developed mapping out the future shape of hospital services across Northern Ireland.
This will spell out what a reorganised hospital and supporting primary care network can look like and where key services would be provided. It will help move health transformation to a new phase, with the overriding goals of better quality care and patients getting seen more quickly.
The Minister said the design plan will be published in the autumn for consultation.
It will be taken forward with advice and input from a new Health and Social Care Improvement and Transformation Advisory Board which is being established for the next stage of rebuilding and transforming services. The Board will be made up of clinicians and system leaders, to ensure that reconfiguration is co-designed.
The Minister said: “We need to change and reform how we provide services in order to deliver a better health service. Without change, we will simply be condemning patients and staff to more of the same.
“Health reform does not mean closing or downgrading a single hospital. We will continue to need every square inch of the current estate. But the role of some hospitals will change.”
Mr Swann was speaking after hosting a meeting with a cross-party group of MLAs. This will be the first in a series of detailed engagements with Assembly colleagues. The discussions addressed the challenges facing our health service, the actions currently being taken and what is needed for the future.
This included the pressing need to rebuild and expand capacity to reduce waiting times and better meet patient needs.
“This will mean changing how we do some things. And yes, that will include reorganising how some services are provided, to create more centres of excellence able to deliver the quality and scale of services people need.
“The design plan will build on clinically led service reviews, public consultations and the strategies already in place – our building blocks for the future.”
The Health Minister also stated: “Debates about reforming our health service have often amounted to little more than talk. It is a story we know only too well. This is an opportunity to reset that debate, to move it on and to concentrate minds. It’s time to change the script.
“I also believe that our health service staff, who have given so much during the pandemic, and our citizens who have suffered so much, need to know that there is a solution that things will get better and we have a plan and a vision to get there.
“Of course this will take time, it will take funding, it will take prioritisation, but we need to have that final design plan we can all work to.”
Mr Swann issued a written Assembly statement following the meeting with MLAs.