Health chief ‘confident’ despite challenges facing NHS

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The Permanent Secretary of Northern Ireland’s Department of Health says he is “confident” about the future of the NHS.

Richard Pengelly was speaking in a message to health workers on Thursday to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the NHS.

There is currently no health minister in Northern Ireland due to the ongoing suspension of the power-sharing Assembly.

Mr Pengelly said the anniversary is a proud day for everyone who works in the health and social care service.

He urged workers to reflect on with pride all the people in need that have been helped thanks to the existence of free healthcare.

July 5, 1948 was the first time anywhere in the world that completely free healthcare was made available on the basis of citizenship rather than the payment of fees or insurance.

Celebration events took place across the UK on Thursday to mark the anniversary, including services at Westminster Abbey and York Minister.

Mr Pengelly said a measure of the success of the NHS can be seen through the significantly increased life expectancy since 1948, and improved outcomes for patients with serious conditions.

However he also acknowledged the “serious pressures” facing the NHS.

An aging population, increasingly more complex care needs, staffing GP practices and increasing drug costs have been generally acknowledged among the challenges facing the health service in Northern Ireland.

In 2016, international health expert Rafael Bengoa made a number of recommendations to be implemented over ten years designed to transform the health service in Northern Ireland to make it fit for the future.

His report received cross-party support at that time, but now following Stormont’s collapse in January 2017 there has been no health minister in post to lead the reforms.

Mr Pengelly said the service can transform, saying: “I remain confident about the future, despite all the problems – with the transformation agenda, we have a clear way forward with widespread support.

“That will mean providing more care in or close to people’s homes – building up services at GP and community level.

“It will also involve pushing ahead with hospital reforms like the development of elective care centres – new stand-alone day surgery units.

“Transformation is not the answer to all our problems. But without it, those problems will get much much worse.”

He added that workers should take heart from the fact the NHS has faced challenges from the start when it was established “amid the rubble of a world war”.

“Today’s challenges, however difficult, are not beyond us,” he said. “Certainly not with the wonderful staff, past and present, on which the service is built.

“So let’s look to the future positively, knowing that through transformation we can put strong foundations in place for decades to come.”

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