2017 health review: Cuts and a 'collapsing' care system

By Marie-Louise Connolly
BBC News NI Health Correspondent

Published
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image captionTowards the end of 2017, adult social care was making headlines

Adult social care, vaginal mesh implants and phantom health cuts - it takes all sorts to make it into an end of year BBC health review.

Towards the end of 2017, adult social care was making headlines.

From patients experiencing lengthy waits for home-care packages, to those who deliver them comparing themselves to "work horses," we heard about a system that is overstretched and that, according to some, is at breaking point.

image copyrightGetty Images

The issue was explored in a series of reports by BBC News NI.

'Collapsing'

A number of questions were asked, including just how much the social care sector is valued, how much workers are paid and if their employment rights are being upheld.

A long-awaited report commissioned by the Department of Health which explored social care was published.

One of its findings was that the system is "collapsing in slow motion".

The report also called for a fundamental change in the way Northern Ireland delivers and funds social care.

Paying a living wage to care workers, introducing a new professional body, involving families and patients in care decisions - and even means testing care, were all among the recommendations.

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A lack of nurses continues and in an unprecedented move, Northern Ireland's health regulator formally notified the Department of Health about a serious nursing shortage.

That followed a series of inspections which identified staffing levels as being a problem in almost every area, with respite and palliative care for children living in the Fermanagh area being suspended.

The Horizon West children's hospice service was opened in Enniskillen in 2012.

Nine paediatric nurses are required to operate the service.

The scandal around vaginal mesh implants in Northern Ireland broke after women told the BBC they had been left physically and mentally scarred after having the treatment.

There are claims of medical negligence and pleas for mesh to be banned.

Northern Ireland's abortion story moved to London where Supreme Court judges are being asked to consider whether the existing rules breach a woman's human rights. An outcome is expected shortly.

A year on from the Bengoa health review and little has been transformed. The public made their voices heard loud and clear during the pre-consultation on the reshaping of stroke services; a formal consultation begins in 2018.

The future of emergency departments is in the balance again, people power won over Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry, County Down, maintaining its ED status.

Despite it receiving a tick on the Department of Health's list of jobs done, the Royal College of GP's would argue that each GP practice has yet to have a named district nurse and health visitor.

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GPs remain under tremendous pressure, however, at the end of the year the Department of Health allocated almost £4m to help improve the service.

Also, an additional £7m is being targeted at soaring hospital waiting lists.

The latest official figures tell us that more than 270,000 people are waiting for a hospital outpatient appointment - and it seems more are turning to the private sector.

While the system is creaking, some people argue it is not all about throwing more money at the problem.

What is required more, perhaps, is leadership.

Other questions posed this year include - will the Royal Victoria Hospital's critical care building miss another opening deadline? According to my sources, probably.

It was also a year of phantom health cuts - remember the sudden reversal over IVF treatment?

The performance of local emergency departments continues to dominate.

Four of Northern Ireland's health trusts were among the 10 worst emergency department performers in the UK.

In a UK-wide exercise, the BBC examined statistics dating back five years.

The Belfast, Northern, Western and Southern health trusts were named among the worst performers, alongside six English NHS trusts.

The ongoing political vacuum at Stormont and lack of transformation means this winter is very likely to be the most challenging yet in terms of NHS performance across the UK.

'Ross the Boss'

But ending on a more positive note, we met GP Benny Glover who retired aged 78 from his practice in Glenarm, County Antrim.

image captionDr Benny Glover retired this year after half a century in General Practice

There was also nine-year-old cancer survivor Ross Patterson.

Known to the nurses as Ross the Boss - in his own inimitable style he rocked our world at the opening of two new state-of-the-art isolation rooms at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.

image captionRoss Patterson told BBC News NI he would rate the new rooms a perfect 10-out-of-10