New government proposal would change women’s health services in Northern Ireland

The Department of Health (DoH) of Northern Ireland has published a proposal that would reduce the number of facilities where patients can receive breast assessment services from five to three. Screening services, however, would not be impacted.

Services for symptomatic referrals and referrals from mammography providers are presently carried out at hospitals in Altnagelvin, Antrim, Craigavon, Belfast City and Ulster. Under this proposal, services would still be available in Altnagelvin, Antrium and Ulster. According to the DoH, this shift would help healthcare providers adapt to a shortage of specialists in the area and ensure “high-quality, safe, sustainable, accessible and timely” patient care.

“We have listened carefully to patient voices and it is very clear that timely access to care is the overriding priority,” DoH Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said in a prepared statement. “The way breast assessment services are currently delivered is becoming increasingly fragile. Staffing challenges are an important factor behind these pressures and demand for care—including urgent referrals for suspected cancer—is increasing. Sticking with the current model would mean ongoing and worsening vulnerability, with deteriorating waiting times for assessment.”

The full proposal is available on the department’s website, and a public consultation period is open until June 17.