Build it back, build it better – NICON Health and Social Care conference…

Last week I attended NICON 2020 usually held in La Mon hotel this conference was held virtually and although it is essentially an “industry” event, all stakeholders were welcome. Which included yours truly who as a service user was allocated a ticket through my involvement with The Patient Client Council

The Department of Health website describes NICON as “a Health and Social Care platform which exists to influence policy, support and brief members, inform and influence the media and politicians about key issues in the HSC, and to connect members with other stakeholders both inside and outside of Northern Ireland.” A little aside from me here, in case you weren’t aware we don’t have the NHS in NI. All aspects of our health care are delivered by Health and Social Care. So all your clapping on Thursday evenings and rainbows in your windows for the NHS were I’m sure appreciated by all our HSC staff, irrespective of the different acronym. It’s the thought that counts.

The keynote speakers included Robin Swann, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, so you can see this conference was an event of impact and importance locally. Of course since the conference things are moving apace and at the time of writing we await a decision from The Hill about how we move forward with restrictions and any other way we can combat the worrying rise in cases. My local town of Castlewellan seems to be in the grip of a severe outbreak with many businesses having to close for deep cleaning as staff have tested positive.

From DOH website; “Health Minister Robin Swann today highlighted the challenges facing HSC services and his continued commitment to delivering the transformation agenda, he also thanked HSC staff for their ongoing dedication throughout the Covid 19 pandemic.

Health Minister Robin Swann addressing the 10th annual Northern Ireland Confederation Conference

Health Minister Robin Swann was addressing the 10th annual Northern Ireland Confederation Conference. Speaking at the conference the Health Minister said: “We face many challenges as we enter this difficult winter period, but we have already achieved so much, learned so much, and shown our resilience and compassion for each other. And we will do so again.”

“As we come together today, we have a renewed focus on partnership working, on supporting and valuing our workforce, on the importance of strong and supportive leadership, on delivering quality services, and on enhancing our capacity and capabilities within e-health; more important now than ever in this time of home working, telephone triage and contact tracing.

“Whilst we must face the challenges that lie ahead, we must also continue to rebuild; to transform our services in a way that ensures they are here for those who need them today, tomorrow, and for generations to come.”

Up to 300 participants from the HSC and wider stakeholder groups took part in this year’s online event. Delegates attending the conference are drawn from across the HSC, and also include key strategic partners from the community and voluntary sector, health and social care experts and practitioners.”

Some of the presentations included topics such as Build it Back, Build it Better which was the conference theme. The topic of most interest to me was the Reconfiguring of our Urgent and Emergency Services. My local A&E in Downpatrick has been closed for some time, prior to that it was operating with reduced opening hours. Recently it was announced that it won’t open in October as planned. It is now being repurposed as a consultant led Urgent Care Centre, whatever that is. The press release about “rebuilding Downe Urgent and Emergency Care Services” was wordy, baffling, cold and distinctly dissatisfactory.

It is widely recognised that our services are under pressure and that A&E departments are in high demand. Recent figures show that 65% of cases arriving in A&E were more appropriate to other areas of urgent care. But people need to know how to access the right services and where is best to go. I’m sure no one wants to go to A&E unnecessarily or to waste anyone’s time, but the signposting is simply not clear enough. Any community feels an emotional attachment to their local hospital as its a facility they rely on. We need clarity and reassurance, not some bland press release.

Before I end this piece I’d like to recommend membership of the aforementioned Patient and Client Council. I hadn’t heard about the PCC until I needed some advice about being badly let down by a health care provider. PCC is an important part of our health care system but I hadn’t heard of them until I needed help. I found them online, got the necessary support and since then I’ve been a member. It’s one way to become involved in supporting our health care system and have some input in making changes. Change is happening, whether you like it or not. Health and Social Care is at breaking point and in need of transformation and reform. If you want your voice to be heard then now is the time to step up. Join local groups, stay informed and demand more from your local elected representatives.

I felt that the overarching theme of NICON was one of positivity and I was impressed by the drive towards building a genuinely new and improved version of health and social care. Our HSC did an amazing job in the face of COVID-19. The positivity did spill over a bit and at times became a little bit too self-congratulatory. I was reminded of my time in the civil service, where the higher grades seemed to have a very rosy view of the organisation that those of us on the front line didn’t share.

Unmuting the voice of service users was mentioned several times. Time will tell if HSC will pay lip service to that particular soundbite, or if patients will ever truly be brought on board as partners in transforming our amazing health system.

banksy – peaceful hearts doctor – 3” by Eva Blue is licensed under CC BY