Ex-Basque Country minister leads healthcare expert panel

Professor Rafael Bengoa spent 15 years with the World Health Organisation

A FORMER Basque Country government minister is to lead an expert panel tasked with overseeing the transformation of Northern Ireland's ailing healthcare system.

Professor Rafael Bengoa, who spent 15 years with the World Health Organisation (WHO), is among six people appointed to the group.

The panel was suggested by Sir Liam Donaldson in his 2015 report which said there were too many hospitals, with expertise too thinly spread.

However, Health Minister Simon Hamilton dismissed his call for the panel to be wholly international with its proposals accepted in advance.

Instead only two are international figures with four from Northern Ireland with no such agreement on its findings.

Mr Hamilton said: "This will be a clinically led process to advise us what services the people of Northern Ireland should expect from their health and social care system.

"The panel will bring local expertise and an international perspective to this challenging but essential piece of work."

It was first announced last year, along with the abolition of the Health and Social Care Board which commissions services for the six health trusts and the establishment of a transformation fund to pay for cost-saving initiatives.

"We know that health and social care is facing significant challenges in the coming years," the DUP minister said.

Our population is increasing in size and is getting older, more people are living with chronic conditions, unhealthy lifestyles are creating more demand for services and new developments in medical technologies and drugs are increasing demand and raising costs.

"We cannot afford to stand still. We have to transform our health and social care system to make sure we can continue to deliver world class services. I am therefore appointing an expert panel to lead the debate on the optimal configuration of health and social care services in Northern Ireland."

Prof Bengoa served as minister for health and consumer affairs in the Basque government in Spain from 2009 to 2012.

He practised as a doctor for seven years in both hospital and primary care, was a WHO director in Copenhagen and Geneva until 2006 and has co-authored numerous healthcare policy documents in Spain and further afield.

He is also a senior fellow of Harvard School of Public Health, vice chairman of the European Commission's advisory group Horizon 20/20 looking at health, demography and wellbeing and director of the health department at the Spanish Deusto Business School.

The other panel members are Mairéad McAlinden, chief executive of Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust in England; Professor John Ovretveit from the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm; Bronagh Scott, deputy chief nurse for the NHS England London region; east Belfast GP Dr Alan Stout; and Mark Taylor, a consultant in general and hepatobiliary surgery.

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