Two months since the 2022 Northern Ireland Assembly election, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow have come together to call on all political parties to work together to deliver a much-needed multi-year budget.
Health and social care trusts will struggle to transform patient care and expand multidisciplinary team working without recurrent funding: the system needs certainty. In their recent joint publication, The time is now: an action plan for health and care in Northern Ireland, the three colleges called for a recurrent, multi-year budget with which it can achieve lasting change for the people of Northern Ireland. This must be an immediate priority for assembly members.
The current stalemate risks slowing progress in meeting the recommendations of Systems, not structures – changing health and social care (Bengoa, 2016). Services must be delivered in the right place, at the right time, by the right people – whether that be locally or nationally. This could mean specialist centres for elective care which could help to reduce the burden on district general hospitals. But without a multi-year budget, the health service cannot carry out long-term plans to support NHS staff, transform healthcare or tackle health inequalities.
Sir Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians said:
"Clinicians are trying to cope with growing workforce shortages, the impact of poverty and the cost of living crisis on people’s health, and a huge rise in patient numbers at the front door of the hospital. It’s a perfect storm, and the political and financial uncertainty facing the NHS in Northern Ireland is not helping. Without a multi-year budget, the health service cannot carry out long-term plans to support NHS staff, transform healthcare or tackle health inequalities. To make real progress on improving patient care, we need political parties to work together to secure recurrent funding for public services. Only then can we start making the long-term change that Northern Ireland needs."
Professor Andrew Elder, president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh added:
"We are calling for a multi-year budget because it would bring much needed certainty to health budget planning. Healthcare workers and patients need to know what to expect from health and social care over the coming years, and a multi-year budget agreement will help to do that while giving the health department the tools to address treatment backlogs. We would advise that the Bengoa recommendations be taken forward to benefit the people of Northern Ireland. But this can only be done with the full support of all political parties in the province."
Mr Mike McKirdy, president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow added:
"A multi-year budget is the only way in which Northern Ireland will get the NHS it deserves. All political parties should be working together to put the health service on the footing it requires to deliver for patients. The importance of recruitment and retention for the healthcare workforce in Northern Ireland, particularly in the recovery of services from the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be overstated. Improving access to care and delivering shorter waiting times depends on staff being available and that can only be done with the certainty that a multi-year financial settlement can provide. Good healthcare improves lives and reduces inequality across society, and we are committed to working with Northern Ireland’s politicians to help deliver it."