Health Reform will be huge political test

This week was a watershed for the NI Executive, as the actual implementation of the long reviewed and consulted upon ‘Compton Review’, known officially as Transforming Your Care (and associated Population Plans), finally commenced.

The process has drawn very little public comment – which, cynically, is perhaps to be expected given that it is a real political issue with a real impact on people’s daily lives. Nevertheless, it will be every bit as testing for the NI political class as flags or parades.

In the broad thrust of the reforms, I personally see much to agree with and very little to disagree with. Prevention, early intervention and broad health promotion are the way forward; just going on as we are as demand rises but money is limited is not an option; and efficiency does specifically demand innovation and “stopping doing the things which don’t work“, in the Minister’s own words.

Nevertheless, there is reason to be wary. Switching, for example, from “secondary” to “primary/community” care means switching from hospitals to small health centres and the home – what the media will see there is “hospital closures”. Already the media’s instant focus on the Ministerial Statement on Tuesday was on the “loss of 180 beds” – it was only UTV, late in the evening, which recognised the potential of more care in the home or more local settings.

The Consultation has, generally, succeeded in bringing much of the Health Sector on board. However, few local representatives will meekly stand by and allow hospitals (or even hospital wards) to close – NI politicians have never been renowned for their ability to lead based on the greater, longer-term good! Broadly, Health Reform needs our support – and it may be for us, the public, to make that clear.

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