The Ulster Unionist Party’s Health Spokesperson, Roy Beggs MLA, has accused the Department of Health of appearing to deliberately wait until this week to announce changes to stroke services - including the closure of several stroke units - when it knew that Brexit would be dominating the news agenda.
Roy Beggs said:
“It was in 2017 when the Health and Social Care Board ran an initial 13 week pre-consultation exercise. We were repeatedly told at the time the next set of firm proposals would come in 2018, but that never happened.
“Instead it would appear that the Department of Health had intentionally chosen this week some time ago – when it knew that all eyes would be on Westminster for the major Brexit decisions – to reveal what would be the biggest ever shakeup to Northern Ireland’s stroke services.
“That also unnecessarily forced local communities, patients and staff to wait even longer under a huge cloud of uncertainty.
“There are some proposals that I very much welcome, not least the expansion of Thrombectomy to a 24/7 service.
“Also, no one questions the fact that there has long been an unacceptable variation in the standards of care delivered to stroke patients throughout Northern Ireland. However, rather than tackling that disparity in a measured manner, the Department is proposing an approach equivalent to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
“From day one it has been blatantly obvious that the Department of Health and the HSCB have wanted to significantly reduce the number of stroke units across Northern Ireland. They relied heavily on research and evidence from largely urbanised areas in England that were in no way comparable to our circumstances. Indeed, given our dispersed population, I still do not believe it has been proven that centralising acute stroke care into a very small number of high volume specialist centres would in fact produce better clinical outcomes.
“I don’t doubt at all that sometimes it is medically more beneficial for a patient to travel a further if it means a better quality of care, but in the case of stroke units it is well-established that the sooner a patient receives treatment, the better their long-term prospects. One thing that is certain from this consultation is that for many stroke patients right across Northern Ireland, travel times for treatment look set to increase greatly.
“My Party will now go through these proposals in detail, and engage widely with expert opinion, before coming to a conclusion on any preferred options.”