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22.03.19

Department of Health announces day surgery shake-up in Northern Ireland

The Department of Health (DoH) has announced “radical plans” to shake up day surgery across Northern Ireland.

Thousands of routine operations will be transferred to dedicated sites known as day case surgery hubs, with the hubs offering a range of specialities.

These surgery hubs or ‘elective care centres’ have been in use in Northern Ireland since last October, carrying out all planned surgeries for cataracts and varicose veins.

The latest rollout is the next stage in the DoH’s healthcare transformation announced in 2016 in the Bengoa report in a 10-year plan to improve waiting times.

The specialities that will now be offered at the elective care centres are general surgery, endoscopy, gynaecology, orthopaedics, ENT, urology, paediatrics, and neurology.

New established groups will take the plans forward in each speciality and identify preferred sites for the centres.

The DoH said the work will help inform a regional model for day case surgery across the country, with plans that a model will be prepared and under public consultation before the end of 2019.

The department aims to transfer more than 100,000 day cases, 25,000 endoscopies and 8,000 paediatric procedures to the new model by December 2020.

Richard Pengelly, the DoH’s permanent secretary, commented: “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.”

Pengelly said the key issue was the location of the centres, which will inevitably mean that some people have to travel further for their day surgery.

But he said that the department will achieve “significant and substantial reductions” in waiting times, with previous work suggesting that service users are happy with the trade-off.

Tom Black of the BMA Northern Ireland welcomed the plans, stating they were “almost inevitable” following the frustrations and lack of positive change over the last year.

He said: “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.”

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