Northern Ireland

Health 2018: Reviews, recommendations and reminiscing

NHS Tracker graphic

It has been a year dominated by reviews, recommendations and, to mark 70 years of the NHS, a lot of reminiscing.

2018 was an important year when several stories set benchmarks in an attempt to improve Northern Ireland's Health and Social Care system.

Shocking stories about Dunmurry Manor Nursing Home and Muckamore Abbey Hospital have rocked the system.

But all were played out against a backdrop of thousands of dedicated health and social care workers who kept the system afloat.

The year began with the publication of the report into the Hyponatraemia Inquiry, which investigated the deaths of five children in hospitals here.

Image caption Adam Strain, Raychel Ferguson, Claire Roberts and Conor Mitchell. Lucy Crawford's family chose not to release a photograph

After almost 14 years, the inquiry made 96 recommendations including the establishment of a duty of candour on medical professionals "to tell patients and their families about major failures in care and to give a full and honest explanation".

As a result, some doctors named by the BBC are being investigated by their regulatory body and will appear before the Medical Practitioners Tribunal.

From the care of children to that of older people, a County Antrim nursing home was another story that dominated the news.

Image copyright PACEMAKER

Following testimonies from many families, an investigation into Dunmurry Manor Care Home in Belfast found a "horrific catalogue of inhuman and degrading treatment, with many spending their last few months living in appalling circumstances".

Runwood Homes, which owns Dunmurry Manor, issued a full apology. Families have continued to call for justice and a public inquiry.

The neurology recall and the ongoing fallout over the Muckamore Abbey Hospital scandal will continue to dominate next year's news.

The hospital is at the centre of the biggest adult safeguarding investigation of its kind in Northern Ireland.

A report leaked to the BBC confirmed families worst fears that their loved ones, who are extremely vulnerable, were physically and mentally abused.

Brave families broadcast heart wrenching stories about how their adult children were treated.

An apology from the permanent health secretary over Muckamore was welcomed by families but they too said they won't stop until they get a public inquiry.

In May, the BBC broke details around a recall of thousands of neurology patients.

It followed a review into the work of one neurology consultant, Dr Michael Watt, at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.

The review includes Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's, epilepsy and stroke patients - some may have been misdiagnosed and wrongly treated.

The trust admits others could face devastating news after being reviewed.

In all of these big stories the Department of Health has said it has set up working groups to progress and implement recommendations.

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Media captionMedical advancement for prostate cancer

Meanwhile, Da Vinci arrived - as the name suggests it's impressive, intelligent and about to make an impact improving the treatment of prostate cancer in Northern Ireland.

Da Vinci is not a person but a £1.5m robot that has been installed at Belfast City Hospital.


On abortion, it's was a story of north and south.

In Northern Ireland the issue appears to be going round in circles.

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Media captionThe law on abortion in Northern Ireland explained

In November, judgment was reserved in a judicial review brought by a woman being prosecuted for buying her then 15-year-old daughter abortion pills.

The woman could face up to five years in jail if convicted.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The referendum resulted in a landslide win for the repeal side

In the Republic of Ireland a referendum voted overwhelmingly to overturn the abortion ban.

Terminations up to 12 weeks will be available in the New Year - a service that women from Northern Ireland will be able to pay for.

Staff shortages

Staff shortages were an issue across the system.

In November, this hit the paediatric pathology service when the BBC revealed that post-mortem examinations on infants in Northern Ireland will have to be carried out in a hospital in England due to a lack of specialist staff.

It means that since 2016 three paediatric pathologists will have either retired or resigned.

We also started a big conversation around the menopause, especially why employers should consider introducing a specific health care policy.

It has been a year when people with a lot of influence, including Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, decided to speak out about the lack of political leadership and direction especially in the world of health.

And, of course, all these issues having to be navigated without a health minister.

This year we heard a lot from adults with learning disabilities.

From Barbara Norris, a member of the Falcons who managed Queen's Park run one Saturday, to Liam who worked at the Loaf café on the Grosvenor road - his speciality is making sausage rolls.

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Media captionFinding out more about 'all the shaky-shake stuff'

And, in a completely different story we can't leave out, James a haemophiliac who featured in Harvey's Gang.

It's an initiative that demystifies what goes on in hospital by giving kids hands-on experience - including would you believe taking blood and then following what happens to it when it gets to the lab.

Shaping the future

Have you ever wondered what shapes our cities in the future?

This year, Belfast played host to the World Health Organisation's International healthy cities conference. Representatives from 60 countries and 200 cities descended.

The sun shone and many including this health correspondent took part in a healthy city run.

Slow transformation

While that was about the future, there was plenty of reminiscing about the past as the NHS celebrated 70 years.

While that mostly highlighted all that's good, it was a stark reminder that if the NHS is to continue it will have to change how services are delivered.

While transformation is happening, it's happening very slowly.

Orthopaedic mega clinics got under way, more ophthalmology and dermatology services are being delivered in the community.

Image copyright Getty Images

As I write, the winter pressures have still to grip.

No doubt they will and staff once again will steer us through those challenging times.

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