Representatives from the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Royal College of GPs, Royal College of Surgeons, and Royal College of Emergency Medicine met with the Northern Ireland health minister, Robin Swann MLA, to discuss his plan to rebuild Northern Ireland’s health service.

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 expressed their support for the health minister’s plan, agreeing that sustainable models of care are urgently required to manage the new backlog of patients resulting from the suspension of services, on top of the worst waiting times in the UK.

The Colleges noted that this will require a 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.

Dr Hamish Courtney, Northern Ireland representative of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, supported the minister’s position stating:

Physicians throughout Northern 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 to contribute to the much needed re-design of our health and care services.

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 the minister has demonstrated to listening 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.

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.

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