NI waiting lists: Overnight planned surgery centres established

By Michael Fitzpatrick

  • Published
Medic running with hospital bed.Image source, Getty Images

New overnight planned surgery centres are to be established as part of a review of general surgery in Northern Ireland.

General surgery is a wide-ranging specialty focusing on diseases of the digestive tract.

The first of the centres is earmarked for the Mater Hospital in Belfast, with further sites to be selected.

Northern Ireland has the worst waiting list figures in the UK.

There are more than 350,000 people waiting for a first outpatient appointment in Northern Ireland.

The centres will focus on elective - or planned - surgeries, rather than emergency or unplanned treatment.

The overnight stay centres will involve procedures for high volume cases of intermediate complexity, the department said, which require at least one night in hospital.

The Mater site will take patients from across Northern Ireland. The plan is to identify another centre outside of Belfast.

A Department of Health spokesperson has said that plan is intended to be published in the autumn.

Its review also sets out standards hospitals will be required to meet to continue providing emergency and planned surgery.

Health Minister Robin Swann welcomed the centres and said: "They will be used to drive decisions on the reshaping of services and will help inform the wider design plan initiative which I recently announced for our hospital network."

Image caption,
Robin Swann says that "the case for reshaping general surgery services is unanswerable"

Mr Swann added the case for reforming general surgery is "unanswerable" and that patients are currently not getting the best possible care.

"Whilst our surgeons and wider multi-disciplinary teams do outstanding work, current arrangements do them a disservice."

The review emphasised the "pressing need for change, given current issues of sustainability and keeping pace with the development of the specialty".

'Increased reliance on locum cover'

The department said that there had been "major changes" in general surgery over the last two decades and that surgeons are now more focused on specific areas, such as colorectal surgery, upper gastrointestinal surgery.

This means larger staffing teams are required, it continued, which can lead to recruitment issues and an increased reliance on staff cover.

In addition, access to interventional radiology and endoscopy facilities is "not consistent across the hospital network".

Prof Mark Taylor, the review chair and a consultant in general and hepatobiliary surgery, said he hoped the centres would contribute to wider reform of the health service.

"The changing nature of surgical speciality means delivering emergency general surgery across multiple smaller sites with a lower patient turnover is becoming increasingly difficult in terms of rotas, staff recruitment and retention, skill mix, and maintaining quality care," he said.

"If we don't secure change in a planned way, it will happen anyway in an unplanned and piecemeal fashion as services in a number of locations increasingly struggle to keep going."

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