Northern Ireland

NI health reform: Expert panel to shape future of health care system

Doctor writing reports Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The minister said the panel of experts will lead the debate on the best future configuration of health and social care services in Northern Ireland

An expert panel which will help shape the future of health care in Northern Ireland has been announced by Stormont's health minister.

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

It highlighted duplication and called for a simpler, more efficient system.

Sir Liam said the panel should be international and it should be agreed in advance to accept its proposals.

However, Health Minister Simon Hamilton did not agree, saying the panel should be mostly local and there would be no upfront agreement to accept its findings.

The panel announced on Thursday has two international figures and four more from Northern Ireland.

It will be chaired by Prof Rafael Bengoa who is director of the health department at the Deusto Business School in Spain.

Image copyright Prof Rafael Bengoa
Image caption The panel will be chaired by Spanish health reform expert Prof Rafael Bengoa

He is regarded as a worldwide expert on health reform and has advised the European Union and the Obama administration.

Prof Bengoa previously worked for the World Health Organisation for more than 15 years.

He said that over the last 40 years, there had been a focus in health on "planning around structures instead of planning around patient needs and outcomes".

"The important thing for us at the panel is to be thinking in outcome terms and then we see if there is any physical restructuring that is needed to fulfil those outcomes but not the other way around," he added.

"The difference Northern Ireland is suggesting is that they are engaging both politically and technically on the long-term and so other countries are not doing that and that is why I think it is interesting to accept this invitation to lead the panel."

Other panel members include two Northern Ireland-based doctors and two health service managers who are from Northern Ireland but now work in England.

They are;

  • Mairead McAlinden, chief executive of Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust. She is a former chief executive of the Southern Trust in Northern Ireland
  • Mark Taylor, consultant in general and hepatobiliary surgery and the current lead clinician at Belfast's Mater Hospital
  • Alan Stout, east Belfast GP and deputy chairman of the Northern Ireland General Practitioners Committee
  • Bronagh Scott, deputy chief nurse for NHS England London region. She previously worked for the Northern Trust in Northern Ireland
  • Prof John Øvretveit, professor of healthcare innovation implementation and evaluation at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm

In a statement, Mr Hamilton said: "We know that health and social care is facing significant challenges in the coming years.

"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."

Mr Hamilton wants cross-party consensus on the specific terms of reference for the panel.

This is to be discussed a a political summit on health next month.

The experts will then begin the main part of their work by mid-March.

It is hoped the panel will report by the summer on specific changes to Northern Ireland's health system, but any substantial proposals are likely to take years to implement.

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