Saturday, November 14, 2009

Interview with local newspaper on my appointment to the Patient Client Council

Question:Could you just explain a bit more about your background in the health service and politics.

My Answer:Health issues are absolutely central to my involvement with politics. Indeed it was my involvement with the campaign to save the Banks Residential Home in Ballyholme which brought me into the political scene.
As a result of that campaign I realised that if you wanted to get things done then you really did need the backing of the local political interests. Once elected to North Down Council in the early 1980’s I became heavily involved with the establishment of Bangor Community Hospital and also with early rationalisation in the service when I encouraged the amalgamation of two local trusts to form the Ulster Community and Hospitals Trust. I went on to become a non-executive director in that Trust. So you will see I have been heavily involved with the health service for a lengthy period and have a great affinity for it.
My first priority in my political life is to look after the interests of North Down - and that has always included health issues. As a local councillor I have a wide range of contacts throughout the local community and have dealt with their concerns on a wide range of issues - including planning housing and environmental issues.
This new appointment will help to ensure that full account will be taken of any concerns which local people have about health and social care in the area.

Question: How did you get appointed to the PCC? Who is it made up of?

My Answer: I have had a great interest in the reorganisation of the health service and always took the view that sensible reorganisation was both inevitable and necessary. The old system had become virtually unworkable with its large number of often overlapping Trusts Boards and Councils Through that interest I was always aware that the old health councils would be replaced with one central body which would be charged with looking after the
interests of patients and other users of the service.

The appointments to the new Patient and Client Council were publicly advertised and I applied. Appointments were made on the merit principle in an open competition. That process involved a detailed application form and an in depth interview
to test candidates knowledge of what was involved and their commitment to that. I was delighted that I came through that intensive process successfully.
The PCC has a management Board made up of locally elected representatives, members of the community and voluntary sector, interested members of the public and trade unions. The membership of the Board is drawn from across Northern Ireland and meets in public on a monthly basis across Northern Ireland.

Question:What experience do you bring to your new role?

My Answer: As a district councillor I have extensive practical experience of dealing with a wide variety of issues of concern to local people. I pride my self in dealing promptly with any issue raised with me. Equally important I find that I can satisfactorily resolve most of those issues - although I know from experience that you simply cannot satisfy all of the people all of the time! At a very practical level I chaired the complaints procedure committee in my capacity as a non-executive director on the old Ulster
Community and Hospitals trust. That gave me a very valuable insight into the nature of complaints and how to ensure that they were dealt with satisfactorily. All of this experience, focused as it is on the needs of local people and communities, will help me to make a positive contribution to the work of the new Council.

Question: What are your priorities or targets in your new role?

My Answer: This is a new body and the first step is to get it up and running effectively.
We will then need to look at how best we can create working links with individuals and communities and health care bodies. That will involve working closely with those in health and social care on a professional basis. Our main objective will be to find ways of ensuring that members of the general public have a clear way to express any concerns or views they may have on health and social care.
I would be anxious that we get to that stage as soon as at all possible - but we must have adequate structures in place otherwise there will be no clear focus on the issues which concern people.

Question: What are your thoughts on the health service¹s new structure in Northern Ireland? How will the health service benefit from a regional board rather than district authorities?

My Answer: Doubtless there will be teething problems as the new structures start to bed in as they are after all of a fairly fundamental nature. I have however no doubt that change was needed in rationalising a completely unwieldy
structure which involved far to many bodies which often tended to overlap with each other. There was also a clear need to rationalise the number of acute facilities which we had in Northern Ireland. It is important to stress that while there has been centralisation, the new structures also provide for district level provision.
A major improvement in the health service’s new structures is the Patient and Client Council. The Council, for the first time, provides a powerful voice for patients, carers and their families from all over Northern Ireland.

Question: What are the weaknesses in health services in the North Down area?

My Answer: With no acute provision in the North Down geographical area we must ensure that the facilities in the Ulster Hospital are adequate to meet the needs of the area and there have always been some concerns about this.
Question: What areas do you feel most strongly about?

My Answer: Another area of particular interest to me is that we have a significant number of elderly people in the area and we must ensure that there are adequate facilities to meet their needs particularly in relation to support for carers.
We really do need to look very hard at this latter issue.

Question:What is the future of Bangor Community Hospital? How will it be affected by the new health centre planned for the town?

My Answer: As I indicated earlier I have a very strong personal interest in Bangor Community Hospital. I am absolutely confident about its future as a support facility for the major hospitals in Belfast - particularly the Ulster. It will continue to play a key role in taking the pressure of those acute hospitals both with regard to minor injuries and a range of less acute treatments. There is for example thought being given to the creation of a facility to support patients suffering from strokes. We must however always
bear in mind that the role of a community hospital is to support and supplement the work of the larger acute facilities which have the range of expertise required to deal with major medical issues.

Question:What are your thoughts of the previous Eastern Health Council? Any plans to continue its work?

My Answer: The previous Eastern Health Council - like its counterparts elsewhere in Northern Ireland did much good work in looking after patient interests.
However like the rest of the health service there were too many bodies to enable them to have the impact needed at central policy level. The new body will build on the work undertaken by the old councils and in my view will give that work a much greater focus

Question: With the focus of the PCC on the whole of Northern Ireland, how
difficult will it be to discuss local matters and deal with local issues?

My Answer: The PCC certainly has a regional role to play and that is a major strength in the new structures but importantly its work will be also be informed by local people with local issues. The Board of the PCC are already discussing the setting up of local committees. These groups will be made up of local people, and will ensure that the PCC has a credible local presence across Northern Ireland.

Question: When and where will PCC meetings be taking place? Are they open to the public?
My Answer: The membership of the Board is drawn from across Northern Ireland and meets in public on a monthly basis. The July meeting will be held in our own area and the venue and agenda will be posted on our website www.patientclientcouncil closer the time.
These meetings are an opportunity for the PCC Board to hear concerns from local people about health and social care services in their area. The members are committed to listening to people’s views and making sure they are heard by those making decisions. The PCC provides an opportunity for patients, careers and their families to be directly involved in health and social care. This can only mean better care and better outcomes for everyone.

Question:How can patients with any concerns contact you or the PCC?

My Answer: The PCC will eventually have a regional HQ in Antrim and 5 local area offices based in Belfast, Broughshane, Lurgan, Omagh and Newtownards.
The offices in Antrim and Newtownards will open later this year. In the meantime the Council already has skilled and professional staff to help people make a complaint and or assist in issues raised by the public. Anyone with concerns should telephone 0800 9170222 or alternatively please contact our Belfast office at
The Patient and Client Council
1st Floor Lesley House,
25-27 Wellington Place
BT1 6GD.

My own role along with my fellow Board members would be to oversee the work of the Council and in particular to ensure that it deals effectively with all issues brought to it's attention by the public. I will of course have a particular interest in any problems relating to North Down. As a local councillor I have always made myself freely available to local people and anyone with a concern regarding the new arrangements should feel free to contact me.
My telephone number is 02891 461739 and my e mail is -