Health Minister Robin Swann has launched a new Elective Care Framework for Northern Ireland, setting out a detailed road map for tackling hospital waiting lists.

Mr. Swann today said he wanted to “restore hope” to people waiting for hospital care in pain and discomfort.

The framework proposes a £700m investment over five years. It sets out a twin-track approach of investment and reform ­– targeted investment to get many more people treated as quickly as possible, plus reform and investment to eradicate the gap between demand and capacity and ensure backlogs do not keep re-occurring

“I realise this is a big ask at a time when there are many financial demands on our public sector. However, we should have no illusions that this is a crisis that has already dragged on far too long.

“The time for talk is over – what we need now is concerted action.”

This framework contains a range of short-, medium- and longer-term actions.

The plans include the implementation of “green pathways” with every effort made to keep elected care services entirely separate from any exposure to Covid-19; expansion of the elective care centre model with surgeries provided in ring-fenced specialist hubs; a regional NI-wide approach rather than a disjointed postcode lottery system; and the delivery of megaclinics for out-patient, assessment and pre-operative assessment clinics.

Further parts of the plan target improved data, reporting and accountability; a continued focus on performance management; ongoing close cooperation with the independent sector; the development of in-house HSC capacity, including continued investment in staffing, and the use of temporary, enhanced rates for targeted shifts.

Mr. Swann said: “These are just some of the examples of a suite of initiatives. It will take all these and many more to properly turn the situation around.

“I want long waits to have been fully banished by March, 2026. The framework sets a target for March 2026 of no patient waiting more than 52 weeks for a first out-patient appointment and in-patient/day case treatment; or 26 weeks for a diagnostics appointment.

“If we can bring forward this timeline we will obviously do so, but we have to acknowledge the scale of the problem that has built up and the capacity restrictions that will limit our room for manoeuvre.

“For example, there are currently almost 190,000 patients waiting more than a year for their first out-patient appointment. This is almost five times as many as when the abortive 2017 Elective Care Plan was published.

“If we don’t eradicate the gap between demand and capacity then the backlogs in care will keep re-occurring.

“Investment and reform are now both required – targeted investment to get many more people treated as quickly as possible; reform to ensure the long-term problems of capacity and productivity are properly addressed.”

The Minister also announced that he will reinstate a new Cross-Border Healthcare Directive for a 12-month period from July.

This new Republic of Ireland Reimbursement Scheme sets out a framework that will allow patients to seek and pay for routinely commissioned treatment in the private sector in the Republic and have the costs, up to the cost of the treatment to the HSC in Northern Ireland, reimbursed.

Further details will be confirmed in the coming days.