New service could be 'game changer' for hospitals

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A new health initiative to deal with cataracts could mark a turning point in the long drawn out rundown of services at Mid Ulster and South Tyrone hospitals, according to a local councillor.

Welcoming the Department of Health announcement, Mid Ulster councillor George Shiels described the move as “a potential game changer” in tackling patient waiting lists within Northern Ireland’s hospital services.

“The Mid Ulster Hospital was the first hospital in western Europe to set up an intensive care unit and along with South Tyrone it should never have been allowed to be run down so far,” he told he Mail yesterday.

The department the initiative is an important landmark reorganisation of hospital services with the setting up of new regional centres for day surgery.

From next month the new prototype elective care centres will undertake routine day surgery for cataracts and treatment of varicose veins.

It is expected that the development of the care centres will have a significant impact on the number of patients treated.

The Mid Ulster, South Tyrone and Downe Hospitals will specialise in cataract removal which could mean up to 2,000 additional treatment of cataracts annually. The Magherafelt councillor said: “This could be a potential game changer in the constant battle with ever upwards spiralling waiting lists for hospital services, for the claims by the department are dramatic.

“Official projections claim that at the end of year one patients waiting for treatment on either of these specialities will not wait longer than one year, while by the end of the third year waiting times will drop to 13 weeks.”

The councillor claimed there are also additional benefits for the full complement of hospital services.

“Because these two examples are being withdrawn off site from urgent and emergency hospital care, they will not clutter up operating rooms and other resources leading to fewer cancellations of operations. So there is a potential opportunity to reduce patient waiting times across the board.”

Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said: “The development of elective care centres is an important step in the transformation of hospital services in Northern Ireland.

“The current waiting times for hospital surgery are totally unacceptable, and elective care centres are central to our plans to eradicate this scourge on our service.

“Delivering services on fewer hospital sites will increase the capacity of the health system and allow us to deliver more procedures. While this will be an important step forward, I would emphasise that additional investment is still needed to clear the significant backlog of patients who are waiting for an operation.”