Waiting Lists: 3Ps Policy

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the Northern Ireland Assembly am 2:45 pm ar 15 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Danny Donnelly Danny Donnelly Alliance 2:45, 15 Ebrill 2024

3. Mr Donnelly asked the Minister of Health for his assessment of the Welsh 3Ps policy to support people on waiting lists in Northern Ireland. (AQO 266/22-27)

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

The reduction of waiting lists is a key priority for me and has been indicated as a key priority for the Executive. My officials are taking forward a range of measures to address it. However, as the Member is aware, it is a complex matter that will take time, effort and, importantly, adequate and recurrent investment. I fully acknowledge the need to have in place measures to help those who are on waiting lists. The elective care framework that I published in 2021 proposed a £700 million investment over five years. Whilst it set out firm and time-bound proposals, unfortunately, as Members know, the subsequent absence of agreed Executive Budgets combined with the political disruption for much of the period since has meant that the implementation of the framework is not what it should be. Nevertheless, some good progress has been made across several areas. The Member is aware that I attended the meeting, which his party colleague sponsored, at which the potential benefits of the Welsh initiative for patients on waiting lists were presented. Following that presentation, I asked my officials for an assessment of the implications, including the potential costs, of adopting a similar process here. I will consider that in the context of advice from officials.

Photo of Danny Donnelly Danny Donnelly Alliance

I thank the Minister for his answer. The Minister will also be aware of the 'Worried and Waiting' report, which was launched in the Building earlier. The report shows that paediatric waiting lists in Northern Ireland have increased by 173% in the past seven years, which is wholly unacceptable. With far too many children and their families waiting for outpatient appointments, what is the Minister doing to communicate with and support people who are on those waiting lists, who often feel isolated and forgotten?

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank the Member. Although I was not able to attend the launch of the report today, I met people from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health a fortnight ago and talked through some of the recommendations in the report. I had good engagement with them at that event. A wide range of online well-being support is available to people who are on waiting lists. That exists across primary care, where the multidisciplinary team programme is improving access to early supports and proactively supporting good physical and mental health and social well-being. A new online tracking system that the Member may be aware of, My Waiting Times, was launched on 25 May last year. That allows patients to check average waiting times for first outpatient hospital appointments across different clinical specialties in each health and social care trust area. The new My Waiting Times Northern Ireland website provides detailed information on average assessment and waiting times by specialty and trust. In addition, the website provides links to support for patients' health and well-being while they wait for treatment.

It provides information on travelling to appointments, the hospital travel costs scheme and the patient transport service, and it provides advice if treatment is no longer required or if a patient cannot attend their first appointment.

Photo of Liz Kimmins Liz Kimmins Sinn Féin 3:00, 15 Ebrill 2024

The 'Worried and Waiting' report was published today. Has the Minister had time to consider that report, and does he intend to initiate a child health system review to identify the needs aimed at reducing child health inequalities, as called for in the report?

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I was able to talk with representatives of the Royal College of Paediatrics on, I think, 4 April and update them on where the child health partnership and the project board are and how we look at bringing children's services in the Department on to an even keel and tackle some of the horrendous waiting lists that have been described. As regards the other recommendations, the royal college is fair in regard to how we tackle health inequalities, especially among our young people, but that is not solely a challenge to my Department, the Department of Health. There is a challenge to every Department and our Executive as a whole: how we improve access to education, those early years structures and supports, access to special educational needs, housing and welfare and all the rest of it. When we look at the approach that is being proposed in the programme, where it looks at a child-centred, whole-child approach, it has to be a whole-Executive approach.

Photo of Alan Chambers Alan Chambers UUP

Today's report from the Royal College of Paediatrics has reiterated the awful figures that many of us have known for some time. We are a fortnight into the financial year, and, still with little budgetary clarity on the horizon, can the Minister provide an update on the challenges that his Department and the trusts find themselves facing when trying to tackle the problem of our waiting lists with, effectively, one hand tied behind their back?

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

The Member makes a valid point that has been reiterated across the House many times, not just by me but by Executive colleagues. When we talk about waiting lists, the challenge is having a non-recurrent Budget that does not allow us to make the strategic changes that we want to make across health, which needs that long-term, recurrent investment. Look at the waiting list initiatives: the funding that my Department has been given over the past number of years from a single-year Budget makes those larger pieces of transformation that we want to do all the more challenging, but we still push on in looking at how we can develop overnight care, day case procedure units and rapid diagnostic centres while we can do that within the remit of the budget and workforce that I have available.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

Minister, the state of the health service in general, specifically the length of waiting lists, is probably the single biggest example and crystallisation of chaos in public services and the thing that most of the public in Northern Ireland want dealt with most quickly. It has to be at the core of a Programme for Government, but we heard from the First Minister and, indeed, from the deputy First Minister today that there does not seem to be any great hurry in the production of a Programme for Government.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Question, please, Mr O'Toole.

Photo of Matthew O'Toole Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party

Do you believe that it is an urgent priority, and will you push for health to be at the core of an urgently produced Programme for Government?

Photo of Robin Swann Robin Swann UUP

I thank the Member. I push all the time that health should be central to everything that we do, not just in a Programme for Government but in a Budget. That was the commitment that was made in the House when this Executive were established. I want to hold my Executive colleagues to that commitment and that promise, not just to me as Health Minister or my Department but to the people of Northern Ireland. The Member is right: it is the most crucial topic that we talk about, and it is affecting every household across Northern Ireland.

A Programme for Government will be beneficial, but it has to be funded and costed, and I am sure that we do not disagree on that. However, we are still working with a single-year Budget that does not allow the large-scale transformation pieces. I will still push for funding for my Department, for the health service and for waiting list initiatives.