As SDLP health spokesperson, I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion and give my party's support to the review into workforce planning by the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety.
I concur with the remarks of the Chair. I find it ironic that we are discussing workforce planning when the Minister is not at his desk and the Chief Medical Officer is double-jobbing as head of the Belfast Trust. I am disappointed that the Minister is not here.
The health service employs almost 55,000 staff, who are dedicated and professional, and who are working to achieve the highest standards of care for patients in often difficult and stressful circumstances. Their commitment, energy and compassion must receive the highest praise. It is important that we acknowledge that. The pressure they are under is intolerable and the reason for it is systemic failure.
We are here to discuss the key strategic direction of workforce planning in relation to the Transforming Your Care plan. That plan foresaw the strain on the health service, particularly on the expense side, with a growing older population, growing long-term health conditions and a growing need to reach into communities with meaningful health interventions to avoid, as much as possible, people having to go into hospital and essentially racking up big bills.
What did TYC say about workforce planning? Recommendation 79 called for measures to be put in place to ensure that staff are able to work in a manner that supports TYC. Recommendation 95 called for the development of new workforce skills that shifts care towards prevention, self-care and integration to the home. Recommendation 97 called for integration of workforce planning into the commissioning process.
"key priorities and performance indicators ... but there has been no outline of how we get to where we want to be ... in two years ... four years and ... six years."
Systemic failure. The unions told the Committee:
"Even though we have asked for it three times, we have not yet seen a breakdown of where the £25 million [for implementing TYC] was spent, how it was spent and where it was applied."
That is the considered view of leading health unions four years into the process. It reinforces the fact that the public have not yet benefited from the implementation of TYC and have scarcely seen its implementation. Worryingly, the BMA advised that it has no evidence that investment has been shifted from hospital settings to primary care. The Royal College of Nursing also pointed out that there has been decline in the number of community nurses over recent years, which similarly seems to be out of step with the direction of shift left under TYC. So, we were getting an absolute chorus of key representative organisations saying the same type of things albeit in slightly different ways.