Why has more attention not been given to a great expose of the NI health service shown on BBCNI last week? I’ve just been watching the programme on BBC iPlayer that’s taught me a lot about the strengths and weaknesses about how Northern Ireland is run today. Multimillionaire Raphoe resident and NHS troubleshooter Sir Gerry Robinson has homed in on the new Belfast Health Trust, employer of 22,000 with an annual budget of over £1 billion a year and the UK’s biggest. He came to conclusions even more critical than reported in the accompanying BBC website news story, viz:
- Politicians treating the Royal, City and Mater hospitals as personal fiefdoms were standing in the way of the Trust from planning effectively; all three operated wastefully as general hospitals when they should be specialising as ” more logical operating units”.
- Target setting by Michael McGimpsey and the Health Department were sometimes evasion strategies for proper planning, were rushed in too quickly and were oppressing staff.
This super manager was firmly on the side of the staff. Disarmingly frank at times : “Sounds like waffle ” he murmured at one hapless manager. ” You need to ease back on the sense of punishment and set about a feeling of achieving together.. The management has been heavy handed”
A brave management witness spelt out the problems caused by the politicians. “With a fresh sheet would you really have 5 A&Es in a 15 mile radius? Bear in mind that there are local politicians associated with each of them. Our minister says we won’t be doing anything with the City. Then there’s the Mater and the Royal is the trauma centre..
Big achievements were indeed credited.
- Waiting times had dropped form 13 hours to 4 hours by March last year for 95% of patents.
- Ambulance picked-up 66% of patients within 8 minutes but missed the 70% target.
- They had 600 patients waiting on trolleys a year ago and now there are none.
- 5 year waits for cardiac and six for hip operations had gone down to 34 weeks from first seen to treatment or discharge.
- The star area is orthopaedics at Musgrave Park, the UK’s best treatment centre, dealing with 1500 procedures a year compared to 200 p.a. UK average, by developing their specialisation to a very high level.
But where does patient care figure in all these stats? Quite prominently I reckon, although the clinicians and managers are worried that patient satisfaction isn’t being monitored properly. The service needs to concentrate more on outcomes, said one manager who could be forgiven the terrible jargon that infects the whole system.
And if they don’t reform? Andrew McCormick the permanent sec admitted that ” on the demographics, we’ll have a serious financial problem if we don’t secure good health prevention.”
And good political prevention too Andrew?
Do watch Life Matters before they drop it.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London