College calls for urgent action to safeguard the future of the health service in Northern Ireland

The College joined with its sister Colleges of Physicians to call on Northern Ireland Assembly members to take action to secure a multi-year budget for health and social care.

Two months since the Northern Ireland Assembly election, the College believes political parties must urgently work together to deliver a much-needed multi-year budget. 

Health and social care trusts will struggle to transform patient care and expand multidisciplinary team working without recurrent funding: the system needs certainty. In their recent joint publication, The time is now: An action plan for health and care in Northern Ireland, the three colleges called for a recurrent, multi-year budget with which it can achieve lasting change for the people of Northern Ireland.

The current stalemate risks slowing progress in meeting the recommendations of Systems, not structures - changing health and social care (Bengoa, 2016). Services must be delivered in the right place, at the right time, by the right people – whether that be locally or nationally. This could mean specialist centres for elective care which could help to reduce the burden on district general hospitals. But without a multi-year budget, the health service cannot carry out long-term plans to support NHS staff, transform healthcare or tackle health inequalities.

As at 31 March 2022, 122,820 patients were waiting to be admitted to hospitals in Northern Ireland – this is a 10.4% increase from 31 March 2021. 100,041 patients were waiting over 13 weeks for an inpatient or day case admission, and 69,831 patients were waiting over 52 weeks for an inpatient or day case admission.

Professor Andrew Elder, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh said:

We are calling for a multi-year budget because it would bring much needed certainty to health budget planning. Healthcare workers and patients need to know what to expect from health and social care over the coming years, and a multi-year budget agreement will help to do that while giving the health department the tools to address treatment backlogs. We would advise that the Bengoa recommendations be taken forward to benefit the people of Northern Ireland. But this can only be done with the full support of all political parties in the province.