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DUP South Antrim MLA and Vice-Chair of Stormont’s Health Committee Pam Cameron has welcomed greater clarity from the Minister of Health on the re-establishment of orthopaedic surgery and day procedures but cautioned that plans to rebuild must not leave isolated or hard-to-reach communities disadvantaged.

Commenting, Mrs Cameron said:

“Throughout the Covid-19 crisis the suspension of routine health and social care services has caused significant disruption and distress to those affected. Too many patients are waiting too long for treatment, surgery or a diagnosis and it is vital that they receive the attention and support they need as soon as possible.

I support the creation of a hub site at Lagan Valley Hospital as a Day Procedure Centre and the decision to assign two elective orthopaedics sites at Musgrave Park and Altnagelvin. It is imperative that this work is accelerated so that patients - many of whom have had to endure months of worsening pain and quality of life as they await joint replacement surgery - see the benefits without further delay. Such an approach will inevitably have the effect of concentrating services toward a more limited range of sites and it is essential this includes safeguards to ensure access is fair and equitable for everyone in Northern Ireland regardless of where they live.

We also recognise the clear constraints under which HSCTs are currently operating and the Covid-19 challenges they are likely to face for some time to come. The supply of PPE must keep pace with the phased return of services and there is a need to ensure safe spaces for greater face to face appointments. Subsequently the focus on separating elective and unscheduled care is the right one and will hopefully allow a greater proportion of routine services to be maintained should future waves of Covid-19 impact our hospitals in the coming months.

The current pandemic has demonstrated the need to do things differently to pursue better, longer-term outcomes in health and social care for people in Northern Ireland. However, it should not be viewed as blank cheque to make wholesale changes without proper scrutiny going forward. We note the expedited public consultation proposals contained in the Minister’s statement and want to see this completed in a transparent and substantive way.

It is now critical that these plans are put into practice as soon as possible. I would encourage the Minister to set out a timetable for this work to give greater reassurance to patients understandably anxious to see progress.”