Northern Ireland Health Service Changes For Better
Improved life expectancy and reduced waiting times for hospital treatments are proof that the health and social care service is making a real difference to people in Northern Ireland.
Responding to a Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) report into the performance of the health service, Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey said:
"I welcome the findings of the NIAO report which points to good progress against many of my department's key targets for improving health and social care services for everyone. It is fitting in this, the 60th anniversary of the NHS, that there should be a renewed focus and energy into providing the highest quality health and social services.
"There is no doubt our services are improving and changing to meet the growing demands of the public. Yesterday, I announced an end to prescription charges in Northern Ireland by April 2010. The overwhelmingly positive response I received only proves the importance of the health service to the lives of people here.
"Over the last three years, waiting lists for surgery and outpatient appointments have fallen dramatically. Today, only a handful of patients are waiting more than 13 weeks for a first outpatient appointment or 21 weeks for an operation ensuring that everyone has rapid access to essential treatment.
"It is very encouraging that Northern Ireland has the largest reduction in coronary heart disease in the UK. Survival rates for cancer have improved in line with our targets and we continue to have the lowest death rate from stroke in the United Kingdom.
"This year I invested ?12million into improving cardiovascular services along with a ?14million investment for stroke services. This represents a total of ?26million which will have a significant impact on developing better services and consequently improve the health of people at risk from cardiovascular disease."
Turning to concerns raised by the report over continuing health inequalities and levels of obesity and suicide, the minister said the establishment of the new Regional Agency for Public Health and Social Well-being would be key to addressing these issues.
The minister continued: "Our society is blighted by stark health inequalities which I believe can only be fully addressed though the pursuit of a public health agenda.
"Public health is what we do as a society to improve and protect the health of the population. It is about helping people to take responsibility for their own health, preventing disease and educating the population on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. All government departments and indeed, all of society have a role to play.
"Once the new regional public health agency is in place next April, it will become an important new centre of public health expertise. The agency will create a focused, co-ordinated drive for sustained improvement in public health and will be another step in my drive to create a world class health and social care service for Northern Ireland fit for the twenty first century."