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  1. The Education Committee is being briefed this morning by representatives of Ulster University's Vision Science Research Group.
  2. The research group brings together vision scientists, optometrists, ophthalmologists and molecular biologists.
  3. This afternoon, representatives from the BMA and the Royal College of General practitioners are briefing the Health Committee on workforce planning and the Transforming Your Care health reforms.
  4. The committee also has sessions on hospital waiting lists and food hygiene.

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Robert Ainley

All times stated are UK

Good evening

That's all from the Health Committee for this week.

Democracy Live is back at Parliament Buildings in Belfast at 10am on Thursday for a meeting of the Culture Committee, which will be looking at cuts in funding for the arts.

We hope you can join us then.

Hospital numbers

Referring to the number of hospitals, Dr Black says one of the greatest problems for the health service in Northern Ireland is "our obsession with buildings".

Flexible working

Dr Shauna Fannin of the RCGP says the GP workforce is increasingly female.

Dr Shauna Fannin

"The problem is creating a flexible working life for them," she says, adding that their male colleagues are also increasingly looking for flexibility in their working hours.


Kieran McCarthy of Alliance says this afternoon's meeting has been "the most depressing two and a half hours that I've been in this room".


The DUP's Paula Bradley suggests that there could be something in their training contract to ensure that doctors remain in Northern Ireland

Paula Bradley

Dr Woods says this would not work, and other countries "appear so much better".

'A perfect storm'

Dr Tom Black of the BMA says general practice "is clearly not a priority at the Department of Health".

Dr Tom Black

He says "a perfect storm" has developed, and that the GP out-of-hours service has collapsed.

What is Transforming Your Care?

Transforming Your Care is a health service reform programme based on a review that was led by John Compton, former chief executive of the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board.


The review recommended that much greater emphasis should be placed on treating people in their own homes and in the community.


Dr John Woods of the BMA says they have not seen the changes in the workforce required to make the Transforming Your Care (TYC) a reality.

He says the idea behind TYC is a change from predominantly hospital to community-based care.

Dr John Woods

"We are really concerned that this is not happening currently," Dr Woods says.

'Brain drain'

Dr O'Kelly calls for greater investment in GP training.

"We will end up having a brain drain," he says.

'Serious crisis'

Dr John O'Kelly outlines the RCGP's reaction to the "the serious crisis" in general practice.

"Morale is at an all-time low," he says.

Dr O'Kelly says insufficient young doctors are being trained to work in general practice.

Transforming Your Care

Dr Tom Black, Dr John Woods, Dr John O'Kelly and Dr Shauna Fannin

Representatives of the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) take their seats for a briefing session on the staffing implications of the Transforming Your Care health reforms.

'Huge waits'

Ulster Unionist Michael McGimpsey says "we have huge waits here across many specialities".

Michael McGimpsey

The former health minister says the emergence of waits for cancer treatment are of particular concern.

'Back to 2005'

Dean Sullivan of the Health and Social Care Board says waiting lists are back to where they were in 2005, with patients waiting "much longer than a year" for initial assessment.

Hospital trolley
Getty Images

"This will not be a thing that we can just fix by March 2016. It will take three or four years minimum," he says.

Five recommendations

Maeve McLaughlin says her reading of Ms McNeilly's briefing is that the five recommendations that came out of the committee's inquiry into waiting lists have all been rejected by the department.

'Financial constraints'

Ms McNeilly says the department cannot commit to introduce "referral to treatment" targets due to current financial constraints.

Waiting lists

Deborah McNeilly of the Department of Health begins a briefing on hospital waiting lists.

Deborah McNeilly

She says the department "will continue to do the utmost" to ensure patients needs are met.

In the chair

Maeve McLaughlin

Sinn Fein's Maeve McLaughlin is in the chair for this session.

And we're back

We return to the Senate chamber at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, for this afternoon's meeting of the Health Committee.

Today, MLAs are being briefed about hospital waiting times, and the effect of health reforms on staffing.

Education Committee adjourns

With no more business outstanding, chairwoman Michelle McIlveen adjourns the meeting.

Join us again from around 2:40pm when we will be covering the Health Committee, where waiting times for elective treatment and workforce planning under Transforming Your Care will be on the agenda.

'Educational underperformance'

Prof Saunders says funding for research into the link between visual impairment and educational underperformance is hard to come by, as it is not necessarily "sexy research".

She says it could cost between £70k and £100k to perform an in-depth study and if the Department of Education is keen to look into the problem more "maybe they'll need to stump up some funding".

'More attention'

Dr Sara McCullough

Dr McCullough says she would like to see more information about eye tests provided to parents of young children, as other issues such as dental care currently receive more attention.

'Genetic component'

Prof Kathryn Saunders
Prof Kathryn Saunders

In response to a question from committee chairperson Michelle McIlveen, Prof Sunders says the greater instance of long-sightedness in Northern Ireland is "probably genetic".

"We have a relatively small gene pool in Northern Ireland and traditionally it's been quite static. Your prescription, your long-sightedness has a heavy genetic component to it," she adds.

Special needs

Dr McCullough says they have a particular interest, in their field of study, on children with special needs.

She says difficulties with reading or writing are often attributed to those childrens' special needs, when it may have been exacerbated by vision problems.

Vision science

Prof Kathryn Saunders and Dr Sara McCullough of Ulster University

Vision Science Research Group are briefing the committee on work they have done to study vision problems experienced by children in Northern Ireland.

Prof Kathryn Saunders and Dr Sara McCullough

Prof Saunders says a comparative study showed children in NI are five times as likely to be long-sighted as children in Sydney.

Medical records

Michelle McIlveen says the committee's primary concern was that medical records relating to employees are not kept as long as other records "which didn't seem as important".

This could be an issue in cases where workers develop conditions such as asbestosis, which often take a long time to emerge, she says.

Mr McGivern says "In reality this isn't the case. The last record would be at death or pensionable age and then for 40 years after that, which is likely to be 100 years".

Employee records

Michael McGivern and Willie Elliott from the Department of Education are briefing MLAs on the retention and disposal of employee records.

STEM teaching

MLAs agree to write to the education minister to see if his department is considering a language strategy and whether there is a plan to address the need for more resources to encourage STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) studies.

'Little effect'

Pat Sheehan

Pat Sheehan of Sinn Fein says there is little evidence the scheme is having much effect.

"I don't think we should be getting overly exercised about it," he says.

"If we are seriously concerned about teaching kids languages, we should be developing a strategy for it, which involves a hell of a lot more than teaching kids an hour or two at primary school a week," he concludes.

Michelle McIlveen in the chair

Michelle McIlveen

The DUP's Michelle McIlveen is chairing the meeting.

She begins by talking about the cessation of a scheme for teaching languages at primary schools, which Alliance's Trevor Lunn describes as "short-sighted" and one of the minister John O'Dowd's "worst decisions since taking office".

Meeting open

Senate chamber

This morning's meeting of the Education Committee is taking place in the Senate Chamber.

Good morning

Thanks for joining us.

The Education Committee is currently in closed session as it considers a draft report on its inquiry into integrated and shared education.

Our coverage of the committee in open session is due to begin at around 10.45am.