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Workforce Planning Review

Part of Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:00 am on 13th October 2015.

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Photo of Daithí McKay Daithí McKay Sinn Féin 11:00 am, 13th October 2015

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I speak in support of the motion, obviously. It is ridiculous that we find ourselves once again addressing an empty chair across the way. I see that Mr Robinson is the sole representative of the DUP today; perhaps he would like to sit in the Minister's chair, so that we can have some semblance of a real debate and a response from the other side of the House. This is getting beyond ridiculous.

(Mr Principal Deputy Speaker [Mr Newton] in the Chair)

A Phríomh Leas-Chathaoirligh, having just come on to the Health Committee, I am not across the full work of the report, but the importance of workforce planning to productivity, better outcomes, better health outputs and, indeed, the improved health of staff within the health service itself is clear to anyone. From the Committee recommendations it is clear that there are a number of serious concerns that the Department needs to address in terms of Transforming Your Care. These include, for example, the number of GP training places, which has not been implemented by the Department. The Committee is recommending that the Department implement the recommendation of the most recent review to provide an additional 15 GP training places.

The Committee is also concerned that the regional initiatives on normative nurse staffing have not been completed or implemented and by the potential impact that this may have on patient safety. It also recommends that the Department consider how primary care services can be reconfigured across a range of health and social care professionals to deal with the increasing demand for GP appointments.

Recommendation 21 is interesting. As the Chair has already stated, it calls on the Department to produce an estimate of the size of the workforce that will result from Transforming Your Care. This should really be a given. It is surprising that the Department, at this stage of Transforming Your Care, has not carried out this very basic exercise. There are also some real concerns about how the VES (voluntary exit scheme) is being carried out. Such a sizeable movement of staff needs to be a core part of the workforce planning group's work. These need to be strategically aligned urgently to mitigate negative impacts on service delivery.

There also needs to be a common understanding of what TYC is. Is it an ethos? Is it a realisable objective? There seem to me to be a lot of mixed views among stakeholders responding to the Committee. In the Committee's view, the approach to Transforming Your Care of not working to a measurable, costed plan raises key concerns and questions in terms of monitoring, governance and funding. How can an organisation work towards key objectives if there is not a shared view on what they actually are? There is no certainty about what the specific aims and objectives actually are. These are some fundamental basics lacking here, in my view.

There is no doubting the potential in Transforming Your Care. There is no doubting the benefits that there are to be gained. In a situation like this, we need clear leadership and we need clear direction. That would instil confidence in the workforce about where the health service is going and when and, until we get that, we will continue to have all sorts of problems.

It goes without saying that we need a Minister in post to give that leadership and direction. Again, we have a situation where we do not have someone at the helm to respond to the needs of our communities and our workers. This is people's health; this is people's lives; this is a crucial issue for the people whom we represent. Mr Hamilton should really step aside if he is not going to do the job. A lot of people out on the street and around the country would tell you that they would get sacked on the spot if they were not to turn up to work on a Monday or Tuesday morning, as the Minister has been doing for the past few weeks. Of course, Ministers are responsible for billion-pound budgets, so it is a reasonable point made by people that Ministers responsible for those kind of things should be just as accountable as anybody else working in our society.

I have just noticed this morning that it has been noted that the Enterprise Minister is still at work. You have a situation where the Enterprise Minister has been at work, officially, for the past four days, and the Health Minister has not. I do not know what the priorities are within the DUP, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the Department of Health is not a number-one priority. There seem to be concerns that the Enterprise Minister needs to be in post to do his job and to sign off on certain things, but it is not as important that the Health Minister be in post.