16 June 2020

Royal Colleges Connect with Health Minister on New Blueprint for NI's Health System

Medical leaders from the Royal College of GPs, Royal College of Surgeons, Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh and Royal College of Emergency Medicine met with the Health Minister, Robin Swann to discuss his plan to rebuild Northern Ireland's health service.

The Rebuilding Health and Social Care Services – Strategic Framework is a direct response to the Coronavirus pandemic and incorporates the collaboration, learning and innovation that emerged over the last three months, to address a historically disjointed health and social care system.

Speaking after their meeting, the Royal Colleges said the case for change was undeniable and that sustainable models of care are urgently required to manage new and existing backlogs of patients on waiting lists. They also emphasised the need for clinician expertise and experience in shaping the rebuilding of services.

The Colleges noted that this will require significant change in the way that all aspects of care are provided including new ways of delivering consultations in GP surgeries and hospitals with a focus on bringing care to the patient.

Acknowledging the willingness of the Minister and his team to engage with clinicians Mr Mark Taylor, Director of the Royal College of Surgeons in Northern Ireland said:

"We welcome the commitment from the Minister that he will listen to clinicians as he sets about rebuilding our healthcare system. We saw how our colleagues across the health service collaborated in innovative ways to look after patients during the pandemic. Rebuilding our services in a safe and timely way is a pressing need and clinicians must be at the heart of designing new, sustainable regional models and pathways of care, now that the peak of infection has passed, and elective care services can resume."

Dr Laurence Dorman, Chair of the Royal College of GPs in Northern Ireland said he welcomed the Minister's commitment to implement change:

"We also sincerely hope that any changes will improve the patient journey because improving their experience is crucial. GPs enable over 80% of all patient contacts in NI and we would argue that switching services 'back on' requires a twin track approach with both primary and secondary care professions. Both need to switch back on at the same pace and both need to hold that same degree of confidence that patients will be better supported.

"GPs are the bedrock of the NI health system, and although we saw a significant drop in patient numbers during the pandemic, we are seeing that flow return. GPs and their multi-disciplinary practice teams are trusted members of the community who continue to deliver high quality care for their patients, many of whom have known us for years and trust us so well. We want changes to our health system to work for GPs but to also ensure patient focused care remains at the heart of everything we do."

Dr Paul Kerr of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, echoed Dr Dorman's comments saying:

"Emergency Departments have been growing more crowded and COVID-19 means that we need urgent changes to improve patient access to care. Collaboration to design and deliver new pathways for patients is essential and we are working across the Colleges to build new shared models of care."

Dr Hamish Courtney of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, supported the minister's position stating,

"Physicians throughout N Ireland welcome the opportunity to work, both with the minister and with our colleagues in other Colleges to not only restart elective activity but also contribute to the much needed re-design of our services."

Endorsing the Minister's key themes of collaboration, rebuilding and innovation, the Colleges pledged to continue the work already underway with all Royal Colleges in Northern Ireland. Working together with all stakeholders across the HSC as one unified team provides a unique opportunity to co-design new pathways of care for the benefit of our patients and communities.

Further Information
Áine Magee
Policy and Public Affairs Officer
07341 737 033

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 53,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards. RCGPNI represents over 1400 members in Northern Ireland.