How to stabilise health and social care in NI: Department boss lays out priorities

Peter May said addressing the social care crisis and problems accessing GP services are among his priorities.

He explained it is vital that the system moves away “from the concept of every hospital providing every service” which will improve patient outcomes and help tackle hospital waiting lists.

However, he warned ongoing political instability and uncertainty around budgets will hinder efforts to improve conditions.

Mr May hinted again that the public may have to evaluate their priorities when it comes to the services they expect from health and social care.

His comments come as he paid tribute to healthcare staff for their dedication working throughout the pandemic and during unprecedented winter pressures.

He said: “I am very conscious of the scale of the pressures and their relentless nature. I also want to make clear that we cannot keep asking our teams to go through this.

“We cannot accept the fact that too many people are waiting in distress, discomfort and pain for care. There is no quick or simple solution, nor is there a single lever that can be deployed to turn the situation around.

Message: A member of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) holds a dog on the picket line, as nurses take industrial action over pay

“There are, however, a series of individual measures that need constant attention and which together can at least mitigate the pressures in the here and now.

“Every percentage point improvement we can achieve on ambulance turnarounds and delayed discharges makes a difference to patients.”

Issues that have made it onto Mr May’s list include increasing domiciliary care and wider social care capacity to meet increasing levels of need, enhancing GP support to care homes to reduce the number of residents who require a visit to A&E, and rebuilding acute hospital services.

He also said he wants to continue the roll-out of multi-disciplinary teams in GP surgeries to enable all patients in Northern Ireland to access the scheme, which allows them direct access to the likes of physiotherapists, pharmacists and counsellors.

Mr May added: “Some, but by no means all, of these measures will require additional investment and political leadership.

“As has been said before, funding is not the sole solution for health and social care, but there is no solution without it. It is also inevitable that some difficult choices will be required on budgetary priorities.”

Despite this, Mr May also stressed that the health service is still open and caring for people to the very best of its ability.

“If you need health care, whether that is at an ED or from your GP, please don’t be put off seeking it,” he stressed.

“You will be triaged to help make sure those most in need are treated quickest and staff will always try to keep any delays to a minimum.”

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