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Minister sets out series of key initiatives for health reform in Northern Ireland

Health Minister Mike Nesbitt

Health Minister Mike Nesbitt


Tackling health inequalities must be at the heart of health reform in Northern Ireland.


That’s the message from Health Minister Mike Nesbitt today, as he announced a series of planned initiatives over the next six months.


These include:


  • A ‘Live Better’ initiative on health inequalities, designed to bring targeted health support to communities which need it most. This will seek to pull programmes together so that they can be delivered intensively in specific communities. It will cover areas such as: increasing uptake of health screening and vaccination; mental health and emotional well-being support; blood pressure and cholesterol checks; building health literacy; improving social connections; providing nutritional advice; and providing opportunities to be more physically active.


  • A plan for hospital reconfiguration will be published for public consultation this summer. The paper, ‘Towards a Hospital Network’ will provide the basis for current and future reorganisation of hospital services. The plan for Hospital Reconfiguration has been finalised after extensive work and will be published this summer for public consultation. A central theme of the document is that while each existing hospital has a key role to play, every hospital cannot provide every service. The proposal will therefore categorise our hospitals into four specific types, operating as an integrated whole. These are: local hospitals, general hospitals, area hospitals and regional centres.



  • A three-year strategic plan for health and social care will be published in the autumn, covering the remainder of the current Assembly mandate.


  • To help refocus and “reboot” health reform, Professor Rafael Bengoa will return to Northern Ireland in the autumn for a keynote conference and a series of other engagements. An international health expert, Professor Bengoa chaired the panel that produced the 2016 “Systems not Structures” report on changing health and social care.



The Health Minister today (Wednesday 10th July) stated:


“I am very pleased Professor Bengoa has accepted my invitation for a visit in the autumn. This is not about yet another review of our health service. It’s about helping us assess the important work already undertaken and underway and identifying the key strands of action now required. It is about finding the best ways to accelerate the process of change.


“I believe Professor Bengoa will help reboot the public debate on health reform. Unfortunately, that debate has become increasingly distorted, with reform too often misconstrued as a cost cutting programme, or a plan to close hospitals. This is damaging the objective of genuine reform which is to deliver better outcomes.”



Mr Nesbitt continued:


“Addressing health inequalities must be at the heart of health reform and a priority across all parts of Government.


“They are a symptom of the wider inequalities that exist in society. Research indicates that only about 20% of health outcomes are related to clinical care. Other crucial factors include economic disadvantage, environment, education and housing.


“Based on data from England, it is estimated that health inequalities cost Northern Ireland up to £1.7 billion every year including health costs, lost productivity, economic inactivity, poor educational outcomes.


“Above all, my concern is about the impact this has on people in our community.



“To give one shocking example, how can it ever be acceptable that women in our most deprived communities can expect to live 14 fewer years in good health than those in the least deprived communities? A quarter of the way into the 21st Century, this is simply not acceptable in a first world country.”


The Health Minister has detailed his initiatives for health and social care in a Written Ministerial Statement to the Assembly.


The Ministerial Statement also provides an update on the Department of Health’s response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care Services in Northern Ireland.



The Department is today publishing a summary and analysis of the responses to the public consultation on this Review.


This will be followed in the autumn by publication of the Minister’s formal response to the Review’s recommendations.


The Minister will also be engaging with Executive colleagues on the Review’s recommendations that are cross-cutting and relate to the policy responsibilities of other Departments. These include recommendations relating to the establishment of a Children and Families Arm’s Length Body (ALB), the appointment of a Minister for Children and Families, the expansion of the Sure Start Programme and the Gillen Review of Civil and Family Justice.


The three-year Strategic Plan for Health and Social Care will focus on the three themes of Stabilisation, Reform and Delivery. Its overriding objective will be better outcomes for patients and all those who use and depend on services.




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