General surgery provision plan welcomed as signalling 'step change' for ailing system crippled by waiting lists
A PLAN to reconfigure how surgeries are carried out in Northern Ireland will deliver safer and more consistent care for patients, Stormont's health minister has said.
The review into general surgery provision has produced a new set of standards that hospitals will be required to meet to continue to provide emergency and planned general surgeries.
It follows warnings that the north's hospital network structure is not sustainable due to having the longest waiting lists in the UK.
Led by consultant surgeon Professor Mark Taylor, the 'Review of General Surgery' has advised the creation of overnight stay centres for elective surgery.
These will involve planned procedures for high-volume cases where at least one night in hospital is required.
The Mater Hospital will house the first of the new centres, with other sites to be confirmed at a later date.
The review plan proposes greater separation of emergency and elective surgery provision, with different hospitals specialising in different services.
Health Minister Robin Swann said there had been major changes in general surgery over the last 20 years, with surgeons now more specialised and focused on specific areas.
He said this had created a need for larger staffing teams, which had led to recruitment issues and an increased reliance on locum cover.
Radiology and endoscopy facilities were not consistent across the hospital network, Mr Swann said, adding that a further challenge with the current system was the number of elective procedures cancelled due to emergency surgery cases requiring staff and theatre space
"The case for reshaping general surgery services is unanswerable. As this report underlines, we are not currently providing the best possible care for all our patients," Mr Swann said.
"Whilst our surgeons and wider multidisciplinary teams do outstanding work, current arrangements do them a disservice.
"We must press ahead with changes to ensure better, safer and more consistent care for patients, wherever they live in Northern Ireland."
Consultant Professor Taylor said: "If we don't secure change in a planned way, it will happen anyway in an unplanned and piecemeal fashion as services in a number of locations increasingly struggle to keep going."
Gary Spence, of the NI board of the Royal College of Surgeons England, said the review "signals a step change in the future of sustainable general surgery services".
He added: "It builds on our position that we must move towards effective surgical sites that ensure that general surgery, both emergency and elective, can be provided safely and sustainably."
Meanwhile, a statement from Down and Connor Bishop Noel Treanor, who is a trustee of the Mater Hospital, welcomed the north Belfast facility being named the first site for an overnight stay centre.
"This new service underpins the key role of the hospital as a provider of care and treatment to those in need and as a major employer in the local and wider community," he said on behalf of trustees.