Page last updated at 08:25 GMT, Wednesday, 1 April 2009 09:25 UK

Big shake-up in NI health service

Michael McGimpsey
Michael McGimpsey will give details of the changes on Wednesday morning

A major restructuring of Northern Ireland's health service has come into effect.

In the biggest change, a new regional health board will replace four health boards.

The Department of Health said up to £53m will be saved each year. It is expected 1,700 jobs will be lost in total.

The trade union Unison said the test for the changes will be in how quickly patients are seen.

Other changes include a new public health agency responsible for health promotion, and a single patient and client council to replace separate watchdogs.

In all 38 health bodies will be reduced to 17.

A regional business and services organisation will commission services to the five health trusts.

The government said the changes will cut bureaucracy.

"One of the key elements of the restructuring is it's about engaging the population, engaging all of us, in decisions about our own health," Mr McGimpsey said.

"We have 70,000 people working in the health service and there has to be an organisation to that, there has to be a focus to that, otherwise you have 70,000 people milling around.

"You have to organise that and these are the ways that I'm doing that. I'm taking the four existing health boards and collapsing them into one regional board for Northern Ireland."

Patricia McKeown, of health union Unison, gave the changes a cautious welcome.

"What we do want to see is a transfer of people who are already health workers into frontline services," she said.

"We are enthusiastic about the public health agency. We think it can do something serious about addressing the very bad health inequalities Northern Ireland has."

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