NICON18: Delivering the message of transformation together

23 April 2018 - by Gráinne Walsh

The annual spring gathering of health commissioners, service providers and clinicians at NICON always produces an insightful, constructive two days of discussion.

As well as providing an opportunity to learn from professionals operating across the world, the event offers space to reflect on the progress (or lack thereof, as the case may be) in the efforts to transform health and social care.

NICON16 heard Michelle O’Neill, the Minister of Health at the time, commit to providing the strong political leadership necessary to deliver and implement major reform. There was much optimism. The case for change had been widely accepted and policymakers awaited the recommendations from Professor Bengoa and the Minister’s plan for transformation.

Fast forward one year to NICON17 and the optimism had waned somewhat. The intervening period saw the publication of Bengoa’s report, the Minister’s ‘Delivering Together’ framework, the dissolution of the Assembly and a subsequent election. The political context and the lack of ministerial oversight compounded the already significant challenges facing the system.

Eleven months on, NICON18 – which took place last week – has, once again, come and gone. There exist few indications that the necessary political direction is set to emerge. However, in spite of the absence of a Health Minister, the reform agenda continues its course. There may have even been a hint that the programme is progressing nicely without politicians. This was the message that the Transformation Implementation Group was keen to disseminate to NICON delegates.

Examples of some of the efforts that have taken place include:

-          Power to People: proposals to reboot adult care and support in NI report published;

-          Over a dozen consultations on health policy launched;

-          Workforce Strategy developed and soon to be launched;

-          Community Development Framework implementation on the horizon;

-          £30million invested in targeting hospital inpatient and outpatient waiting times.

Evidence of progress sits alongside evidence of a system in a state of constant crisis. An ageing population, deepening health inequalities, increased waiting lists, lack of access to drugs, staff shortages and closure of services; these are the stories that dominate headlines and public debate.

The communication of transformation kicked off the conference with inputs from Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly and Director of Communications David Gordon.

They both emphasised that positive stories of transformation and quality improvement need to be shared. Government, they suggested, needs to spread the good news as well as provide accountable leadership. 

While such good news seems to be thin on the ground, or at least thin in the media, is there a quiet revolution taking place? What sort of health and social care system will any future Health Minister face on his or her first day on the job? Whenever that may be.