'Scourge' of hospital waiting times to be tackled with new centres for planned surgeries
A PROJECT that aims to tackle Northern Ireland's spiralling waiting lists with the creation of centres for day case surgeries has been launched by the Department of Health.
Cataract patients and those suffering from varicose veins will be among the first to benefit from the elective (planned) care centre scheme, which will begin in December.
With the north's waiting lists now the worst in the entire NHS, the 'transformation' project will however require ministerial sign off for the creation of 'permanent' sites for other planned surgeries, such as hip and knee operations.
Lagan Valley hospital in Lisburn and Omagh hospital have been earmarked as the facilities for varicose vein treatment while the cataract procedures will operate from three other local hospitals - the Mid-Ulster in Magherafelt, the Downe Hospital in Downpatrick, and South Tyrone Hospital.
The scheme will ultimately lead to a reduction in the number of A&E hospitals in the north - a controversial measure which independent reports have repeatedly called for over the past two decades.
There are currently 11 acute hospitals for a population of 1.8million. Experts says this should be halved to improve emergency care and reduce waiting times for routine, planned operations.
- Longer wait for NHS patients in north than in England
- Nursing workforce shortages hit 'highest known' level
Health chiefs say the elective facilities will be based at separate sites from emergency hospitals - meaning they will not be competing for operating rooms leading to fewer cancellations of surgeries.
Plans for the initiative were first unveiled by former Sinn Féin health minister Michelle O'Neill in her ambitious blueprint to overhaul the health service two years ago - just a month before the collapse of Stormont.
Permanent Secretary at the Department, Richard Pengelly described the current waiting time for hospital operations as "totally unacceptable", with some patients enduring three-year delays.
But he warned that more money was required to remove people from the waiting list, with 100,000 people currently facing delays in excess of a year for treatment.
"Elective care centres are central to our plans to eradicate this scourge (of waiting times) on our service," Mr Pengelly said.
"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.
"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."