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The Ulster University Report published today (9th December) includes proposals ranging from diagnostics to physical and mental wellbeing, new technologies and spanning life stages from pregnancy to dementia, calls for implementation in response to previous reports and assesses the cost of healthcare and the choices required to increase efficiency and duplication of resources.

Led by 16 Ulster University academics in health and social care disciplines, alongside economic analysis from the University’s Economic Policy Centre, the report is delivered as part of the University’s partnership with Pivotal, the independent public policy think tank for Northern Ireland.

Its recommendations are designed to support and inform policy formation and action plans to future-proof health and social care and to tackle the underlying issues that predate COVID and which remain to be addressed; as well as those that are made more acute by the impact of the pandemic.

This collective contribution to the current policy debate on the future of health and social care in Northern Ireland connects 13 themes and assesses the key issues through a series of question-based chapters and brings forward research-informed recommendations for consideration.  It examines costs and opportunity costs of health policy decisions, issues of health inequality, mental health, transgenerational trauma, drugs, nutrition, physical activity, adult social care, technologies, personalised medicine, and healthcare education.

The team acknowledges the policy direction of successive previous reports, which have consistently called for the shift away from hospitals towards care in the community, as close to home as possible.

Among the Report's recommendations are:

  • An interventionist approach to a physical activity plan for Northern Ireland, drawing upon WHO best practice and contributing to multiple other Executive policy objectives.
  • Support for more strongly integrated services and multidisciplinary interventions to prolong the lives of people with severe mental illness; in addressing dementia, adult social care, intergenerational trauma; and in promoting community-based integrated sexual and reproductive services
  • Introduction of genomic education as a core component in all clinical education pathways to drive more evidence-based diagnoses, treatments and medicines optimisation in Northern Ireland’s health service.
  • Support for the Health Innovation Research Alliance Northern Ireland, acknowledging Healthcare 4:0 and the changing technology landscape; providing for a digitally capable leadership, facilitating and investing in the introduction of new technologies.

Professor Cathy Gormley Heenan, the Report’s editor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and External Affairs) at Ulster University said,

“We take seriously our opportunity to be supportive of public policy and to put our expertise and skills to best use to assist the NI Executive and professional colleagues in bringing forward interventions to benefit patient outcomes, the current workforce and to secure the pipeline of future HSC professionals.

“This timely report brings together insights from a wide range of academic colleagues who work closely with Northern Ireland’s highly skilled healthcare professionals.  The breadth of areas and challenges under consideration reflect both the well-documented pressures on our healthcare system and the emergence of multi-disciplinary teams.

“Originally compiled before the pandemic, we have taken the opportunity to reflect on each theme in the context of COVID.  The challenges faced in our healthcare system pre-date the pandemic and remain to be addressed assertively in its wake.  We look forward to playing our part as the sector gets to grips with what must lie ahead in the best interests of the workforce, patients and our wider community and economy. We stand ready to work alongside and support policy makers, HSC partners and practitioners; and to collaborate in a united effort to deliver the much-needed transformation and reshaping of services.”

The report makes firm suggestions and policy recommendations which, if implemented, would contribute significantly to the aspirations outlined in the New Decade, New Approach published in January 2020, and those included within the previous Programme for Government.

Ann Watt, Director of Pivotal added,

“We welcome this wide-ranging report from Ulster University about the challenges and opportunities in health and social care in Northern Ireland. In the report, academics from the University look at how their research applies to current policy issues, ranging from the funding of healthcare to physical activity and nutrition, and from health technologies to future models for social care. At Pivotal we are committed to encouraging greater engagement and dialogue between universities and policy makers, and this report is a welcome contribution to that aim.”

For those interested in discussing the recommendations with the authors, contact details for all Ulster University contributors are available in the full report.

Read the full report.