Securing the health and wellbeing of our population 2022-2027: Informing the public debate ahead of the May 2022 Northern Ireland Assembly Elections

'Significant opportunity’ for progress on health and care in Northern Ireland through delivery of a bold reform agenda.
Heather Moorhead, Megan Fitzsimons

22 April 2022

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The Northern Ireland Confederation for Health and Social Care (NICON) is the voice of the organisations working across Northern Ireland’s integrated Health and Social Care system (HSC) and is part of the wider NHS Confederation, in England and Wales.  

This report represents the collective views of our members, with the intention of informing the public debate in the run up to the May 2022 Assembly election.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care system was under mounting pressure. A series of strategic reviews had concluded that significant service redesign, and sustained investment would be necessary to address the long-term needs of our population.1 The pandemic has considerably worsened the situation, and unsurprisingly, health consistently ranks as a key concern in the public’s mind.2

Yet over the last two years, colleagues at all levels in the HSC have demonstrated exceptional compassion, collaboration and creativity to lead wholesale change across the system. Widescale vaccination programmes, Nightingales Centres, digital ways of working, and new elective care centres are all noteworthy examples of the swift pace at which change has been implemented. 

As political parties develop their election manifestos in the runup to the May 2022 Northern Ireland Assembly election, we must build on this renewed energy for change, to deliver amidst what are undoubtedly immense challenges. This document sets out the priorities agreed by the Northern Ireland Confederation of Health and Social Care members.
While the challenge is truly unprecedented, our members believe that there is significant opportunity to make real progress, by delivering our bold reform agenda and placing health and social care at the heart of all we do as a nation.  Our call to the public and politicians alike is to support us to support you; so that we can ensure our health care system parallels the best in the world.

Our core priorities

1. Investment in workforce

Implementation of the Health and Care Workforce Strategy 2026 is essential to address our significant workforce gaps. This must be complemented by adequate investment and support for staff to ensure the health and social care (HSC) is recognised as a great place to work

2. Sustainable funding

To recover and transform, we need a sustained funding package and a three-year budget to support effective planning. Any funding shortfalls will significantly limit progress. We must have ambitious but realistic expectations within the funding envelope agreed 

3. Redesigning services – accessing value

There are significant opportunities to improve the design of service delivery, but these have traditionally been met with resistance. We invite service users and the public to co-create new models of care and propose the establishment of a Citizens’ Assembly on this vital conversation

4. Collaborative and empowered leaders

We must build on progress to date to invest in more collaborative ways of working, tapping into leadership in communities, partners, patients and our staff

Our supporting priorities

1. Recovery and transformation  

Prioritise the recovery of our services and address unacceptable waiting times, while seizing opportunities for transformation

2. Population health approach

As we move to an integrated care planning model, we must invest in prevention and addressing inequalities, working in partnership with communities and wider partners

3. Mental health

Our new Mental Health Strategy has been co-created with patients and partners, emphasising the need for parity of esteem between physical and mental health. We call for adequate funding and the continued support of our partners to deliver this ambitious agenda

4. Social care

We welcome recent progress on the proposals from the 2017 Power to People report, and current consultations on the reform of Adult Social Care and Children’s Services and call for progressive action to deliver for our citizens

5. Investment in technology

There must be a sustained focus on implementation of our new suite of digital strategies, supported by adequate staff training to access the considerable benefits that technology and data can offer to drive efficiencies and better outcomes

6. Engaged patients, public and partners  

Learning from international experience we call for a change of culture, inviting citizens, our partners and staff all to be involved in keeping people well and active at home

7. Innovation and economy  

Having a strong and fair economy will drive up health outcomes. There are many opportunities for the HSC to embrace innovation, and contribute in local economies as part of our recovery strategy

8. Net zero carbon

At COP26 the HSC committed to reaching net zero as part of the global effort to tackle climate change. Staff and partners must be well-supported to proactively drive this agenda