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Surgeons in Northern Ireland welcome plans to increase orthopaedic surgery capacity through surgical hubs

21 Jun 2022

Surgeons in Northern Ireland have welcomed the Health Minister’s plans to increase orthopaedic surgery capacity, by ring-fencing staff and services across surgical hub sites, including Musgrave Park Hospital.

Welcoming the Health Minister’s news, the Northern Ireland Director of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, Professor Mark Taylor, said:

“This is another step in the right direction from the Health Minister. The College has been calling for surgical hubs across Northern Ireland, which separate planned surgery and emergency care, since the pandemic began. Today’s announcement will allow patients, beds and staff to be protected from other hospital pressures, so that those who need planned hip or knee treatment can receive it. Making sure we have additional opportunities to carry out orthopaedic treatments is good news for everyone. It will be an enormous challenge, without a doubt. The minister has set a target of November 2022 for orthopaedic surgery at Musgrave Park Hospital to be fully restored to pre-pandemic levels. Surgeons, as always, stand ready to play their part.”

Latest DOH figures show there are 25,742 patients waiting for Trauma and Orthopaedic (T&O) surgery. This is the second highest category of patients waiting – with nearly 65% waiting more than one year for treatment. Overall, NI’s waiting lists remain unacceptably high, with figures showing 358,807 patients waiting for a first outpatient appointment; more than 122,000 waiting for surgery or treatment, and over 155,000 waiting for diagnostics

The decision from Minister Swann was prompted by an external, clinically-led Getting It Right First Time (GIRFT) review into orthopaedic services in NI. The GIRFT review contains 21 recommendations, all of which have been accepted by the Department.

The Health Minister said he hoped the GIRFT review “will help turn the page on a difficult and frustrating chapter for orthopaedic surgery.” He also set a four month target – to 1 November 2022 – for orthopaedic surgery at Musgrave Park Hospital to be fully restored to pre-pandemic levels.

Professor Taylor added: “As a Royal College, we raised concerns about the low levels of orthopaedic surgery in the region, especially planned surgery, over the course of the last two years. We highlighted that orthopaedic surgery continued to be particularly badly impacted by the pandemic due to the loss of nurses being redeployed and other issues. Therefore, we are delighted to see this major announcement from the Health Minister. It will have a positive impact on orthopaedic training log books and will help to focus hearts and minds on recovering elective surgery, not only for the benefit of patients in the short term, but also the long term."

Notes to editors

  1. The GIRFT action plan and recommendations represent a wide ranging and important review of orthopaedic services in NI.  The recommendations suggest more than just ring-fencing surgical hubs but also actions on workforce planning and how to support long term waiters, especially those over 104 weeks.
  2. It suggests ways to best use the resources across Trusts and advises that NI’s HSC should develop a demand and capacity model - this will identify gaps where the waiting times remain unacceptable and where mutual aid should be utilised either by another Trust, if it has some capacity, or by using the independent sector.
  3. Other points relate to incentivisation, how to manage patient data and also a key recommendation that Belfast Trust should consider moving paediatric orthopaedics back to Musgrave Park, as there is no capacity at the children’s hospital to increase the throughput of cases.
  4. The Health Minister’s statement is here:
  5. GIRFT recommendations into NI orthopaedics:
  6. Latest DOH waiting times:

The Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS England) is a professional membership organisation and registered charity. The College provides world-class education, assessment and development to more than 28,000 surgeons, dental professionals and members of the wider surgical and dental care teams, at all stages of their career. The College sets professional standards, facilitates research and champions the best outcomes for patients – with a vision to see excellent surgical care for everyone.

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