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Specialist nurses ‘could tackle wait lists’ in Northern Ireland

Developing specialist nursing roles could be one of several solutions to tackle Northern Ireland’s growing waiting lists, so long as sustainable funding is made available, the country’s health minister has said.

Robin Swann addressed the Northern Ireland Assembly on Tuesday (20 February) to set out his plans to address the backlog.

“I will be leaving no stone unturned as part of my broader consideration of resource investment in reducing waiting lists”

Robin Swann

His speech came as part of a motion which called for “turbo-charge[d] investment” towards tackling the waiting lists.

Mr Swann said it was “deplorable” that waiting list targets had not been met in Northern Ireland since 2014.

He cited the most recent data, which showed that, at the end of September 2023, there were 430,000 patients waiting for their first consultant-led outpatient appointment.

Meanwhile, 115,000 patients were waiting for an inpatient or day case treatment and just under 190,00 patients were waiting for a diagnostic test.

“These are eye watering figures for a population of the size of ours,” said Mr Swann.

Mr Swann returned as health minister earlier this month after the assembly and executive were re-established and power-sharing in Northern Ireland was restored.

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He told the assembly that he had published an elective care framework back in June 2021, which had detailed a five-year plan which aimed to reduce waiting lists.

Mr Swann explained that, while there has been some progress, it should be acknowledged that the two-year political stalemate in the country had caused “damage”.

The Stormont assembly in Northern Ireland was collapsed for almost two years due to a boycott by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Mr Swann said: “In the absence of an executive, and critically, in the absence of any budgetary certainty, the framework was starved of both the leadership and the funding that it required.

“Regrettably therefore, as we’re at the halfway point of its five-year time frame, the department last year already announced that its targets were no longer within reach.”

As such, Mr Swann said he had asked officials to review the framework, which is expected to be completed by June this year.

Tackling lengthy waiting times will require “sustainable and recurrent funding, workforce development and system wide transformation”, argued Mr Swann.

He outlined several plans that could provide some sort of solution to the growing waiting lists, if sustainable and recurrent funding was made available.

One of these proposals was the enhancement of sustainable workforce capacity “through expanding skills mix and development of specialist nurse roles and allied health professionals across a range of specialties”.

Mr Swann said: “I can assure members that I will be leaving no stone unturned as part of my broader consideration of resource investment in reducing waiting lists.

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“I will invest what limited funding there is wherever it’ll have the greatest possible impact.”

DUP MLA Diane Dodds tabled the motion at the assembly.

She said: “Tackling this issue, is one of those pivotal issues in which the success or failure of this executive will be judged.

“This is an issue that will not go away, and we will hold you and your executive colleagues to account on the progress in tackling this one.”

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