Thursday, 10 February 2011

The small issue of Health.

Michael McGimpsey, the Health Minister is at loggerheads with Sammy Wilson, the Finance Minister. This in itself is not surprising nor it is it unique to Northern Ireland. Every minister wants more money and every Finance Minister tends to not want to give them it without a fight. Unfortunately for us in NI, the consequences of this spat are likely to be significant. I firmly believe those who warn the Health Service is in close to being effectively bankrupt (though i'm not sure it's the best phrase for it) and I also firmly believe that Sammy Wilson is right that there are efficiency savings that can be made in the Health Service.

What has to happen when such a situation occurs is that the Minister for Health must act and act decisively. Our minister has made it clear he intends to do nothing. Michael McGimpsey's absolute number one priority is to get re-elected in May. He knows he damages his chances of doing that if he makes unpopular decisions regardless of the need for them. 

Sammy Wilson refers to the numerous reports that say the Health Service needs reform. The reports say we need less hospitals and more specialised units. They say that we have too many beds in the wrong places. Sammy Wilson knows that while McGimpsey refuses to act on those reports he can with some justification say that the funds McGimpsey has are not being utilised correctly. He can also point out that in May of last year McGimpsey was campaigning for the party that imposed the cuts to the NI Budget.

What both of them have failed to address is the issue of inefficiency in processes and procedures that are endemic in the NHS. Yes, there may well be big money to be saved in strategic reform, but that doesn't address the wastage on a procedural basis. Anyone who has been transferred from one unit to another will be well aware of the duplication, time wasting and unnecessary  process that gets you from A to B. Administrative procedures are legion in the NHS, when really, they need to be as lean and simple as possible. Sourcing information is often a battle in an environment when having accurate and up to date information is vital. 

Changing and streamlining the little issues doesn't always save hundreds of thousands of pounds by itself but a culture of that kind always does. Without fail. Unfortunately for us all, it's an area for improvement that is largely being ignored by all who have a hand in the debate. 

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