Robin Swann: Northern Ireland health service has been there for us, now it needs our support… it can’t go back to the way it was

We must aspire to make things better.

ime and time again our health and social care system has been there for us when we needed it.

So many of us have cause to be profoundly grateful for the care and support provided at some of the most difficult times of our lives.

Now it’s the health service that needs our support, our understanding and our patience.

Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on our community, on our way of life and on how health and social care services are delivered.

Things will never be the same again and we need to carefully navigate the next phase of dealing with this terrible virus.

Services were scaled back over recent months to keep the public and staff safe and to focus resources on caring for those stricken by Coronavirus.

Scaling these services back up is not a straightforward task.

The ongoing Covid-19 threats means the capacity of the system will be constrained on an ongoing basis – as social distancing and other measures will be required.

Financial pressures will be intense and we will also have to retain spare capacity in preparation for a potential second Covid-19 wave.

I have published a Strategic Framework for rebuilding the Health and Social Care – a roadmap for emerging from the devastation.

Trusts have produced plans for the first phase of the work being done in their areas to carefully restore provision.

Rebuilding will require time, new ways of working, sustained investment and society-wide support.

In some cases, services will have to be organised differently. Telephone triage and video consultations will become much more commonplace – although they won’t be appropriate for all patients.

The immediate priority is on services where further delay would seriously risk conditions worsening for patients.

That means an ongoing emphasis on high priority cancer services, and other urgent conditions.

Despite all the challenges, I want to be ambitious for the future.

Our aim should not be to simply go back to the way things were.

There were serious imbedded problems in health and social care long before any of us had ever heard of Coronavirus.

Staff were under severe strain. Budgets were repeatedly squeezed. Waiting lists were dire. Emergency departments were seriously over-stretched. Our social care system was described as collapsing in slow motion.

We must aspire to put things right.

We must build on the solidarity and collective spirit that got us through the pandemic’s first wave.

Let’s not just build things back.

Let’s build them better.

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