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Northern Ireland to push for seven-day health service

The Northern Ireland health minister has backed Jeremy Hunt’s move towards a seven-day health service, stating he would like to work with the medical trade unions to this end.

Stormont health minister Simon Hamilton, who only took up his role as Northern Ireland’s health minister in May, said that he welcomed the debate started by the UK health secretary ‘around how we can move towards a seven-day NHS’.

He said he would work with the other administrations in the UK to achieve this.

It comes the day after Mr Hunt attacked the BMA for not being supportive of the move, accusing it of being ‘out of touch’ with its membership.

Mr Hamilton said: ‘It isn’t accurate to say that our health service doesn’t operate 24/7 – it does.

‘But it doesn’t to the same level that it does Monday to Friday, 9 to 5… In this day and age, that sort of disparity in service is simply unacceptable.

‘What I want to see is us moving progressively towards a seven-day NHS in Northern Ireland, one where patients and people don’t notice a difference between a weekday and a weekend.’

Mr Hamilton said that he wanted to want to work with other administrations in the UK and the medical trade unions to ‘bring about this potentially positive transformation for the provision of healthcare’.

Dr Sara Hedderwick of the BMA in Northern Ireland told Radio Ulster’s Evening Extra programme that she hoped Mr Hamilton did not feel that ‘an imposition, such as that suggested by Mr Hunt would be helpful’.

She added: ‘I would like to ask him (Mr Hamilton) what services he would like to run at weekends and what services he would like to run during the week and how he plans to fund these.’

The move follows Mr Hunt’s attempt to impose seven-day working on newly qualified hospital doctors in England, alongside his desire for GPs to open seven days a week.

He argues that around 6,000 people lose their lives every year ‘because we do not have a proper seven-day service in hospitals’.

This sparked a strong response from the BMA, which branded it as a ‘wholesale attack’ on doctors. RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker stressed that GPs were already ‘being pushed to our limits in trying to provide a safe five-day service’ and that the health secretary’s speech sounded ‘alarm bells’ for GPs.

Picture credit: Northern Ireland Executive