The health budget in Northern Ireland ‘does not provide sufficient funding’ to meet current demand, according to a new progress report by the country’s Department of Health.
The report had provided an update on the progress of delivering the 10-year plan ‘Delivering Together’ published in 2016, which aimed to radically overhaul health and social care services in Northern Ireland.
It evaluated that the budget cannot meet the rising pressures across general practice and areas of secondary care.
It said: ‘The budget for 2019/20 does not provide sufficient funding to meet current demand. In short, the budget as it currently stands is insufficient to meet rising pressures across hospital, general practitioner (GP) practices, social care and mental health services, or to systematically tackle the growing waiting list backlog.’
Department of Health permanent secretary Richard Pengelly told the BBC the budget needed a cash injection between £700m and £1bn to combat hospital waiting lists.
The report also acknowledged the pressures facing GPs regarding workforce and said the multi-disciplinary teams model was going well in GP surgeries.
Practice-based physiotherapists, social workers, and mental health practitioners have now been placed in a number of practices, and investment of over £2m has been given to accommodate practice premises.
However, Mr Pengelly has said there was still ‘a long way to go.’
He said: ‘Today’s report is a testament to the commitment and excellence of our staff right across the system.
‘We clearly still have a long way go, with serious challenges right across NI. Too many people are waiting too long for care and staff are under immense and growing pressure.
‘These problems are serious symptoms of an outdated health and social care system that cannot keep up with growing demand. Without reform, they will get worse year on year.
‘The long-term answer to hospital waiting lists involves reshaping services to improve capacity and provide more diagnoses and treatments.
‘Likewise, staffing pressures are clearly linked to services being spread too thinly across too many locations.
‘Without reform, staffing challenges will keep growing and bills for agency and locum cover will continue to climb.’
BMA Northern Ireland chair Dr Alan Stout said: ‘We very much welcome this document and it sets out very clearly the progress that has been made to date in transforming health in Northern Ireland.
‘It is still early in the process, but we are starting to see some changes and some benefits on the ground, particularly in the initial MDT areas in general practice, which is encouraging to both doctors and patients.
‘The past two years have also highlighted the real need for change. Pressures in our system continue to increase and our waiting lists are still unacceptably long, so it is vital that the momentum and the commitment to changing our health system is maintained.
‘As transformation progresses, there will be difficult and challenging conversations and debate about the best way for services to be delivered. This is to be welcomed as we need to be clear about how and where we deliver all services in the future, to not only improve them, but to deliver a level of excellence as expected by the population and to ensure we have an appropriate and responsive workforce to meet the future challenges.’
During his speech at the UK’s LMC conference in Belfast, Dr Stout described Northern Ireland’s GP workforce problems as ‘truly frightening’.
The BMA has previously warned the Government the health system in Northern Ireland ‘cannot cope’ if talks to restore the legislative Assembly do not progress.