Northern Ireland’s Department of Health has issued the first edition of a new newsletter detailing extensive work on the reconfiguration of key hospital services.
Proposals for stroke and breast assessment services have this year been the subject of public consultations.
The Department is now examining all the responses received and will shortly decide on the best way forward.
In addition, clinically-led reviews are underway on urgent and emergency care, neurology services, breast treatment, pathology services, and bariatric surgery.
Permanent Secretary, Richard Pengelly, said: “Changing the way hospital care is provided is never easy.
“The services provided in hospitals are greatly valued by communities and the staff who provide them are justifiably proud of the work they do.
“However, medicine doesn’t, and shouldn’t, stand still.
“Models of care change constantly to reflect new constraints, new technologies, new ways of working, and new evidence of what works and what doesn’t.
“This is not about saving money – greater levels of demand will inevitably require more investment – but it is about ensuring that key services remain sustainable and safe in the long term.
“The most important thing is that people, irrespective of where they live or access these specialist services, should be able to receive the same high-quality treatment, under the right clinical team, in the right place.”
The newsletter sets out the factors behind the reconfiguration plans including increased demand for care with more people living longer; the need to ensure access to the same high-quality treatment across the province; and the importance of building sustainable staffing teams.
Pengelly added: “Some of our services continue to be extremely vulnerable due to the difficulties in attracting and retaining the highly-trained staff who are necessary to safely provide the services.
“There are national shortages of clinical staff in almost every profession and we need to be realistic about how this may impact on our services.
“The alternative to planned change is letting it happen in an unplanned way, with services becoming increasingly unsustainable.
“Services have collapsed suddenly in this way in the past and this kind of unplanned change inevitably has an impact on patients.”
The reconfiguration reviews will also identify whether current systems, procedures, IT and HR policies for managing the delivery of hospital-based services are fully fit for purpose and how these might to be transformed.