Health Minister Robin Swann image
Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann has launched a new Elective Care Framework for Northern Ireland, setting out a detailed roadmap for tackling hospital waiting lists and to “restore hope” for people waiting for care.

The framework proposes a £700 million investment over five years. It sets out a twin-track approach of investment and reform – targeted investment to get many more people treated as quickly as possible, plus reform and investment to eradicate the gap between demand and capacity and ensure backlogs do not keep re-occurring

This framework contains a range of short-term, medium-term and longer-term actions.

It makes clear that the waiting list crisis has been building up for seven years and has been seriously exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It adds that there are “no quick fixes” to the situation.

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Previously, Robin had referred to the waiting lists in Northern Ireland as “dire” and pledged to fix them, after December 2020 statistics unveiled that 81.7 percent of patients were waiting longer than 13 weeks for inpatient or day-case treatment.

The plans detailed in the new framework document include: implementation of “green pathways” with every effort made to keep elected care services entirely separate from any exposure to COVID-19; expansion of the elective care centre model with surgeries provided in ring fenced specialist hubs; a relentless regional NI-wide approach rather than a disjointed postcode lottery system; delivery of mega-clinics for outpatient, assessment and pre-operative assessment clinics; improved data, reporting and accountability; continued focus on performance management; ongoing close cooperation with the independent sector; development of in-house HSC capacity including continued investment in staffing and use of temporary, enhanced rates for targeted shifts.

Robin commented: “I want long waits to have been fully banished by March 2026. The Framework sets a target for March 2026 of no patient waiting more than 52 weeks for a first outpatient appointment and inpatient/day case treatment; or 26 weeks for a diagnostics appointment.

“If we can bring forward this timeline we will obviously do so, but we have to acknowledge the scale of the problem that has built up and the capacity restrictions that will limit our room for manoeuvre.

“For example, there are currently almost 190,000 patients waiting more than a year for their first outpatient appointment. This is almost five times as many as when the abortive 2017 Elective Care Plan was published.

“The plans include crucial and sustained investment in building up the in-house capacity of our health service.”

The health minister outlined that if the waiting list situation is not eradicated, then backlogs in care will continue to occur.

“Up until 2014, the gap was managed through in year funding injections to facilitate additional activity,” he added. “Those monies have been in shorter supply since then and waiting times have climbed relentlessly as a result.

“Investment and reform are now both required – targeted investment to get many more people treated as quickly as possible; reform to ensure the long-term problems of capacity and productivity are properly addressed.”

For more information, read the Elective Care Framework in full here 

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