Northern Ireland

A Year in Health - highlights and lowlights

doctor Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption It has been a year of highs and lows in the health services

A new health minister, a new health review and the prospect of a new initiative to tackle hospital waiting lists next year.

At times 2016 had a refreshing air about it.

But a quick flick through the diary and there is a sharp reminder that certain issues continue to linger namely abortion, GP funding and the state of mental health.

Highlights of the past year? There were many.

In January Chris Boucher gave his three-year-old daughter Lucy one of his kidney's using a revolutionary 3D printer model to help surgeons size the organ from adult to child.

Remember Lucy's laugh? It was infectious.

Charles Bloomer, a 70-year-old man from Belfast, received a cornea transplant from someone he never knew.

Robert Montgomery, a Belfast paramedic, delivered another baby in the back of his ambulance - it's all in a day's work.

It was a year of giving, taking and delivering. It was also the year when we heard a call for politics to be taken out of health.

As always people both patients and staffs were at the centre of the BBC's health stories.

Image copyright Chris Boucher
Image caption Lucy Boucher underwent a successful kidney transplant in November 2015

The issue of "Do not resuscitate" orders was brought into the public arena by County Antrim man Neil Birnie.

Mr Birnie is paralysed from the neck down and can only communicate by using a voice activated computer.

He told the BBC that he was unaware that a "Do Not Resuscitate order" had been placed on his medical file.

Mr Birnie said he felt his human rights were violated. It's since been lifted.

Image caption Neill Birnie became aware that the DNR order had been placed on his file after he was admitted to hospital with pneumonia in 2014

Many names dominated the news including - Bengoa.

In October, Professor Raphael Bengoa's review of health and social care services was published providing the blueprint for much needed reform.

So is this the report to end all reports?

For the good of everyone's health - let's hope so.

While it is a document full of promise one of the biggest threats to its implementation is political opposition.

Its recommendations may be challenging; the big question is can people put health before the current wealth of hospital buildings across Northern Ireland.

The minister Michelle O'Neill responded by issuing a 10-year plan.

Image copyright Prof Rafael Bengoa
Image caption Spanish health reform expert Prof Rafael Bengoa chaired the panel

'Breached waiting targets'

2016 was not a great year if you were on a waiting list.

By November a total of 243,141 patients were waiting for a first consultant-led appointment over 5% more than the same time last year.

More than 70,000 patients were waiting to be admitted to hospital. Health trusts will hardly receive a Christmas bonus - all breached waiting targets set by the Department of Health.

Abortion issues have dominated the year.

In April a woman was given a suspended prison sentence after buying drugs online to terminate a pregnancy.

Precious Life described the sentence as "very lenient" but Amnesty International said it was "utterly appalling" and that women should not be criminalised.

We also saw the latest guidelines on abortion being published and a paper submitted to the Executive around the issue of Fatal Foetal Abnormality.

Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would look into giving Northern Ireland women access to NHS abortions in Scotland without facing prohibitive costs and as we look ahead we still await the Court of Appeal's ruling on whether Northern Ireland's abortion laws breach human rights.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption A working group on the issue reported to the Stormont health and justice ministers on 11 October

In November a BBC investigation revealed that all of Northern Ireland's Health Trusts failed to meet waiting time targets for treating people with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

It also threw up the shocking figure that an additional 300 staff are required to meet demand for treatment.

The issue was raised on the floor of the house - the minister said the solution included improved work force planning.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The Health and Social Care Board says there is a "high risk" of continuing breaches of the 13-week waiting target without additional investment.

We heard GPs threatening to resign from the health service unless the health minister agrees to their demands.

If no agreement is reached people may have to cough up to go and see their doctor. Idle threats? Let's see

Significant announcements - there were many, including the life time ban on gay men donating blood being lifted and the abolition of the Health and Social Care Board.

Doing this job means meeting lots of different people.

In 2016, I will remember conversations with Lynette McKendry, for highlighting inflammatory breast cancer, Consultant Eunice Minford who revealed her abortion story after 15 years and Caroline Gannon a Paediatric Pathologist who told the BBC that she resigned due to interventions by the Attorney General on abortion laws surrounding Fatal Foetal abnormality.

Some of the above issues will limp into next year.

In January, the health minister is due to announce a plan as to how she envisages tackling hospital waiting lists - how much of the independent sector will be employed?

GP funding and the long awaited outcome of the Hyponatraemia Inquiry are all acute issues to keep across in 2017.

It has been a busy year for the health service. Let's see if politics steps aside in order for reform to happen in 2017.