Changes Loom On Health Care

News of a radical shake-up proposed for health and social care in Belfast is not the only changes afoot as the way that health promotion is delivered across Northern Ireland is also being changed.

As options for changing the way Belfast's healthcare trust is being put out to public consultation, it has emerged that the Health Promotion Agency Northern Ireland is also to change.

In Belfast, suggested options include the downgrading of the Mater Hospital's Maternity Department and closure of two psychiatric units.

On the basis that some seven of the new health and well-being centres are now planned to be opened by 2010, these are expected to shoulder much of the work currently undertaken by hospital outpatient clinics.

The Mater is likely to close its inpatient psychiatric beds and obstetric births will move to the Royal Hospital.

In future only midwives at the Mater will deliver babies - not doctors - but the hospital will run many specialist clinics and become the regional eye centre.

The Royal will continue to be the place to go to for major acute care - like heart surgery and trauma.

The City Hospital - which has seen the provision of a huge multi-million pound NI Cancer Centre of Excellence - will stay as the main site for cancer treatment, but in the long-term it will also take over much of Musgrave Park's current orthopaedic work - surgery like hip and knee replacements.

It will become the main hospital for many chronic conditions and for planned surgery.

Meanwhile, there are extensive plans to change the organisation that currently delivers health promotion to Northern Ireland.

A new multi-professional Regional Public Health Agency (RPHA) will drive the public health agenda, bringing together a wide range of existing public health functions to provide a renewed and sustained focus on achieving key public health goals.

It will focus on the key functions of health improvement, health protection and providing public health support to commissioning and policy development.

To fulfil its health improvement functions the Regional Public Health Agency would incorporate the functions of the Health Promotion Agency and the health and wellbeing improvement functions of the Trusts and existing Boards.

NI Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey has revealed how the health protection role of the new Regional Public Health Agency would work: "The Agency would include a Health Protection Unit whose key role would be the prevention and control of infections and emergency planning, improving our capacity to react quickly," he said, earlier this year.

The Health Protection Unit would include the existing health protection functions of the existing Health and Social Services Boards, the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre (CDSC) and the Healthcare Associated Infection Surveillance Centre (HISC).

The Regional Public Health Agency would also be central to providing public health support to the new Regional HSC Board and its LCGs as they develop their commissioning plans, as well as providing expert public health advice to Department, Board and Trusts.


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