Under the Programme for Government 2011-2016, the Government committed to developing a universal, single-tier health service, which guarantees access to medical care based on need, not income. On foot of this commitment the Government will introduce a system of Universal Health Insurance (UHI).
A key stepping stone to the new system will be to develop independent not-for-profit hospital trusts in which all hospitals will function as part of integrated groups. The rationale behind the establishment of hospital groups and trusts is to support increased operational autonomy and accountability for hospital services in a way that will drive service reforms and provide the maximum possible benefit to patients.
The work on hospital groups is not about downgrading hospitals. It is about the bringing together groups of hospitals to form single cohesive entities to allow maximum flexibility in management, budgets and service delivery.
The provision of services at any hospital site will primarily be determined by the appropriate clinical programme for that service, taking account of the population which the hospital serves and services provided by other hospitals which are within reasonable a reasonable commute.
Each Hospital Group will have a single consolidated management team with responsibility for performance and outcomes. It is intended that non-executive Boards, consisting of representative experts, will oversee each Hospital Group management team and will have responsibility for decisions in relation to services in all hospitals in the Group.
Earlier this year I appointed Professor John Higgins to chair a Strategic Board on the Establishment of Hospital Groups. A Project Team was tasked with developing criteria which will assist my Department in the development of policy in relation to the composition of hospital groups, governance arrangements, current management frameworks and linkages to academic institutions. The Team carried out a comprehensive consultation process with all acute hospitals and other health service agencies as well as reviewing a significant number of written submissions.
Work is continuing on finalising a Draft Report on the recommendations for submission to the Strategic Board for consideration when they meet on 14th November. The Report will be submitted to me when the Board have signed off on it and in turn, I will then bring it to Cabinet.
The Government will then decide on the initial make up of hospital groups which be established on an administrative basis pending the legislation required to set up hospital trusts by 2014. Before those trusts are established the make-up and functioning of the Groups will be reviewed and if changes prove necessary then they will be made with Government approval when the hospital trusts are being formed.