Since my appointment as Health Minister last month, I have been setting out to meet the challenges of what is perhaps the most difficult job in the Northern Ireland Executive, and I have been sharing my vision of a safe, sustainable and resilient health and social care service for the future.
The Health and Social Care service in Northern Ireland is something we should all be proud of and I would argue that many aspects of it are already amongst the best in the world: in areas such as cancer, coronary care and innovations in technology, Northern Ireland is truly at the cutting edge.
These achievements did not come from standing still but through the transformation and innovation embraced by our Health and Social Care staff. Despite the budgetary and resource challenges that we face, I want to keep up the momentum and am committed to continuing with the reform agenda driven by the Transforming Your Care vision.
What has been clear to me through my engagement with staff has been the energy and the enthusiasm for reform – and the wealth of ideas people have to change things for the better. Our challenge is to support and enable that enthusiasm for change and improvement. Where we can, we should address issues which are seen to block or slow reform. I have recently established a new Strategic Leadership Group to support and drive this culture of change and innovation.
I understand the concerns that talk of reform can bring, not only for patients but also for Health and Social Care staff. But this is not change for change’s sake or simply a cost saving exercise. Transformation must be based on evidence and practice about what improves the service we deliver for the citizens of Northern Ireland.
A key part of the transformation agenda must also be the increased integration of health and social care. I only need look at the contributions being made by our 17 Integrated Care Partnerships to see the improvements in patient care that can be made by working across disciplines and professions, and with service users.
Integration has already opened innovative new pathways, cutting across structures to put the patient at the centre of care in a whole range of services from mental health to coronary care.
I recognise that politics can sometimes act as a barrier to change. But I cannot imagine a single politician in Northern Ireland who does not share my vision of a world class health and social care system for Northern Ireland. That should form the basis for building consensus on the need for action and an acceptance that difficult decisions will need to be taken.
I do not underestimate the scale of the challenges that lie ahead for me personally and for the health and social care service as a whole. Nevertheless, I intend to make transformation our purpose and deliver my ambitious vision.