Health Minister Edwin Poots has highlighted the valuable contribution made by nurse specialists to the health and well being of the patients they care for throughout Northern Ireland.

Mr Poots was speaking at the official launch of a new toolkit, a first for Northern Ireland, designed to support job planning for specialist nursing roles throughout the Health Service.

He said: "Specialist nurses in Northern Ireland practice in a wide variety of settings. They make an invaluable contribution to improving the care of countless patients across health and social care, working directly with patients in hospitals and in community services, in patients own homes and in GP Practices and Health centres.

"They have consistently pushed the boundaries of practice yet have remained person and patient focused in their work.

"They are at the forefront of technology driven healthcare, using tele health to assist patients to monitor their chronic disease and improving referral pathways. These are areas where nurse specialists are leading and where others must follow."

The new Job Planning Toolkit for Specialist Nurses aims to:

- recognise and value the contribution that specialist nurses make to the provision of services;
- assist nurses, managers and commissioners to design specialist nurse roles; and
- ensure that staff are supported in their roles as specialists.

The Minister also spoke about the challenges faced by all healthcare professionals in the current climate. He said: "I believe that it is vitally important that health and social care services should be driven by, and responsive to the needs of patients, clients and their carers.

"There is an increasing demand for specialist care due to the fact that people are living longer, resulting in a growth in the numbers of older and frail people living in the community.

"This means we need to make changes to the traditional model for delivering care.

"Our objectives cannot just be about the future. Providing safe and effective services means looking to the here and now, and we need to ensure that the services that are currently being delivered serve all of our citizens well."

The Minister concluded: "The demands on both our care system and our care providers themselves are greater than ever before and I will continue to ensure that recognising and supporting the needs of both remains a priority for my Department."