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NI health system: who makes decisions about COVID-19 response?

Health is devolved in Northern Ireland (NI) which means decisions about health are made by the Government in NI. The Government is called the Northern Ireland Executive (NI Executive).

During the COVID-19 outbreak the NI Executive makes the overall decisions about how we will deal with the crisis.  It works closely with wider UK (England, Scotland and Wales) and Republic of Ireland Governments to look at the best way to use the health system to fight COVID-19 and protect people’s health

The National Health Service (NHS) in Northern Ireland is called Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland or HSC.  There are a number of different organisations that work together to plan and deliver Health and Social Care across Northern Ireland.

Department of Health (DoH)

The Department of Health (DoH) is one of 9 Northern Ireland Government Departments.  The Health Minister in Northern Ireland is Robin Swann and he is in charge of the Department of Health.

The Health Minister supported by other people working in the DoH to set out health policy (rules that explain how and why things should be done) and legislation (laws decided by the Government).

The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) is the most senior government advisor on health-related matters and lead medical expert in the Department of Health. The CMO in Northern Ireland is Dr Michael McBride.  The CMO works with the other CMOs across the UK to plan a joined-up response to sharing advice and information on COVID-19 with people in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. CMOs from Northern Ireland and Ireland are also in regular contact

Public Health Agency (PHA)

The purpose of the PHA is to work together with people, communities, the Government and other organisations to promote and improve health and wellbeing and reduce health inequalities.

PHA gathers information and gives advice about COVID-19 in Northern Ireland.   This Includes advice on social distancing and washing our hands. It also been sharing general health advice for example for pregnant people, on managing stress, looking after sick children and preventing household accidents.  It also sends out daily COVID-19 surveillance bulletins with information on how many people have tested positive with COVID-19 and how many deaths have been caused by COVID-19.

Health and Social Care Board (HSCB)

The HSCB is in charge of organising health and social care services in Northern Ireland. It manages the funding from the Department of Health to run health and social services and oversees the work of six Health and Social Care Trusts.

Part of its role during the COVID-19 crisis has been to help GPs, pharmacists and dentists to change how their services work to make sure they are safe for everyone including keeping social distancing rules to try and stop the spread of COVID-19.

Health and Social Care Trusts (HSCT)

Health and Social Care Trusts are responsible for the day to day running of hospitals, health centres, care homes, day centres and other health and social care facilities.  The six Trusts are: the Northern Trust, the South Eastern Trust, the Southern Trust, the Western Trust, the Belfast Trust and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service Trust.

The Trusts and their staff are on the frontline during the COVID-19 outbreak, looking after people in hospitals and nursing care homes. Some of their work during this time has included working with the DoH to look at how hospital services can be changed to meet the need of looking after COVID-19 patients.  They have also worked with the PHA to set up testing centres for healthcare staff in the SSE Arena car park and some MOT centres.

Where do I find more information?

FactCheckNI have written a detailed article with more information on the structure of the Northern Ireland Health System, who makes decisions about COVID-19 and more on what each organisation within Health and Social Care is doing during this time.  You can find it here