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Day surgery shake-up for Northern Ireland

Plans should improve waiting times

Jo Carlowe

Friday, 22 March 2019

Radical plans to transform day surgery across Northern Ireland are being accelerated by the Department of Health.

Last October, day case surgery hubs – elective care centres – were announced for cataract and varicose vein procedures, as a part of a long-term strategy to reduce waiting lists.


Now the same approach is to be rolled out across a wide range of specialities, including: General Surgery and Endoscopy, Urology, Gynaecology, Orthopaedics, ENT, Paediatrics and Neurology.

Newly established groups will take plans forward in each speciality, including identifying preferred sites for the centres. This work will help inform a regional model for day case surgery across Northern Ireland.

It is envisaged this model will be the subject of a public consultation before the end of 2019. By December 2020, the Department aims to transfer more than 100,000 day cases, 25,000 endoscopies and 8,000 paediatric procedures to the new model.

Northern Ireland Department of Health permanent secretary Richard Pengelly said: “Dedicated elective care centres are a priority and a key part of tackling hospital waiting times. All too often at present, routine surgery has to be postponed because hospital theatres are needed for urgent and emergency cases. By creating day surgery hubs on standalone sites away from 24-hour Emergency Departments, we can make our system more productive for the benefit of patients.”

He added: “A key issue will be the location of the centres. This will inevitably mean that some people will have to travel a bit further for their day surgery, but we will achieve significant and sustainable reductions in the waiting times for the procedures. Previous work suggests service users accept this trade off.”

The planning groups for each of the specialities will include clinicians and representatives from health and social care organisations. Evaluations from the prototype cataract and varicose vein centres will help inform the work.

The British Medical Association (BMA) Northern Ireland welcomed the announcement. BMA Northern Ireland council chair Tom Black said it showed the Department was prepared to take action to tackle issues within the healthcare system.

“There has been no positive change in waiting times over the past year and that makes this plan for changes to day surgery and elective care almost inevitable. Hopefully these plans will be developed in consultation with our members, and will make a real difference in tackling the pressure on acute services and address waiting times for patients.

“We know our members are frustrated when procedures are cancelled and their patients are let down, with this reorganisation treatment will be better planned and managed and this can only have a positive effect for everyone."

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