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As a member of the Health Committee, I fully support the comments made by the Chair and other members who have spoken on this very important issue. Again, however, I express disappointment — indeed, it is shameful — that no Health Minister is present in the Chamber to listen and, more importantly, take action on what is a very important topic. We should be really committed to the pathways outlined in the 'Transforming Your Care' document and backed up by the review commissioned by the Department and delivered by Sir Liam Donaldson.
Our health service is experiencing extreme difficulties, as the permanent secretary reported at the Health Committee last week. Some people say that we are in a crisis; I suggest that the health service, at this time, is in a total and absolute shambles, given the ever-increasing waiting lists. Look at this headline from last week: my constituent has been waiting for two years for hospital treatment — she is one of 373,000. What a shame. Not only that, we have people waiting on vital drugs, and, indeed, there are many other inequalities in our present-day health service, which leave so many people to continue suffering in agony.
This is not what this Assembly is about, and the sooner a Minister gets back to work to overcome the shambles, the better. Let me say loud and clear at this juncture that I, the Alliance Party and everyone in the Chamber have the highest regard for every person engaged in providing our community with an excellent health service, from cleaners right up to the consultants and the highest in the profession. The problem is this: how do we get our constituents to receive this fantastic treatment within a reasonable time frame?
Our report has been a very useful exercise. It arrived at 18 recommendations in total, which, if implemented, would allow our patients to receive the necessary health provision as and when required. One of our terms of reference was:
"To examine the Department’s approach to involving staff, professional bodies and staff side organisations on workforce planning in support of the implementation of Transforming Your Care".
We had nine evidence sessions, and we are grateful to all the witnesses who appeared and for the written submissions received, which resulted in the Committee coming up with the recommendations that I mentioned. I take this opportunity to thank the Committee staff for the work that they did in helping us to produce this report.
One disappointing outcome was the delay in the publishing of the work of the regional workforce planning group. That group started work in August 2012, and its report was only published in April this year. One could be forgiven for questioning why there was such a delay and wondering what opportunities may have been missed.
One of the key outputs of the group is the regional workforce planning framework, which is described as:
Our Committee expressed concern that the RWPG had not been as inclusive as it should have been, thereby missing out on the views of experienced people, such as the Royal College of Nursing, trade unions, the allied health professionals and others.
We recommend that our Health Department asks the board to produce an annual workforce plan as part of its annual commissioning plan and also to consider taking a longer-term approach to workforce planning, rather than the proposed five years.
The Transforming Your Care pathway, now regarded not so much as a plan but as an ethos, has been running for a number of years, from 2011. It would appear that money has not been transferred to places where it ought to go, thus the slowdown and perhaps stoppage in the workings of Transforming Your Care, giving us the shambles that we are presently experiencing.
Workforce planning must surely be an essential component in making best use of all the staff within our Health Department. I believe that our Health Committee has done an excellent job in producing this report. I sincerely hope that, despite having no Minister at the helm — at this time, indeed, we simply do not know who is actually in charge of the Department — progress will be made on behalf of all our constituents who are presently ill or on a waiting list.