Significant investment needed to transform stretched NHS services, report warns
Patients should see improvements in the health service in the next two years, a leading clinician has said, as a report warned significant investment is needed to transform how care is delivered.
Sweeping changes to transform stretched NHS services in Northern Ireland are dependent on funding being made available, the Department of Health said.
A new report, published a year after the initial plan for reform of elective care services, showed a target on waiting times had not been met.
The department said the necessary funding had not been made available to ensure no-one faced a wait of longer than a year for a first outpatient appointment.
The aim of the major reform plan is for long-term improvement rather than short-term fixes, a doctor involved in the project said.
Dr Niall Herity, a consultant cardiologist at the Belfast Trust, said he was not surprised the waiting time target had not yet been met, but was confident improvements would come.
He said: "It's not really a surprise to me that waiting time targets aren't being met at this point. I think what's being proposed is a much more systematic, fundamental change to the way we deliver our services and I would expect the benefits to be seen over a period of a short number of years."
He said millions of pounds had been injected into the health service in the past to meet targets but underlying issues around access to care had not been addressed.
The report indicates that the intention is for money to be made available in the next two years through a £200 million transformation fund as part of the DUP's £1 billion confidence and supply arrangement with the Conservatives.
The progress report says: "While a number of initiatives have been taken forward within existing resources, significant investment is required to transform and modernise services in line with the vision for delivering a world class health and social care system for Northern Ireland, and to deliver sustainably shorter waiting times."
It said services remain under "significant pressure" and branded waiting times "unacceptable", adding: "Long-term sustainability will be achieved only through radical change, supported by investment."
A blueprint for transformation of the health service was agreed by the powersharing executive before its implosion at the beginning of last year.
Despite a lack of ministers, steps to implement the reforms have continued.
Officials said new elective care centres - described as standalone units where large numbers of assessments and routine surgery can take place - should be up and running by the end of 2020.
It is admitted that some patients may have to travel further for treatment but the report says people should see quicker assessment and care overall as well as better outcomes.
Dr Herity, who said the standard of care in Northern Ireland is high but the problem is ensuring patients have access, added: "People should expect to see improvements in services by the end of 2020, particularly in specialities where dedicated elective care centres focus their work initially."