Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Edwin Poots: Health Minister is out of his depth and out of ideas and I hope he'll soon be out of a job

Health Minister Edwin Poots speaking in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stomont
Health Minister Edwin Poots speaking in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stomont

It was refreshing this week to hear the Assembly debate something that actually matters to people, when it discussed the crisis afflicting A&E services.

Given this crisis is happening on Edwin Poots’ watch, the 'concerns' expressed by DUP MLAs were little short of cringeworthy. For good measure of course, Jeffrey Donaldson MP and Lisburn City Council – where the DUP sit as the largest party – also joined in on the act beyond Parliament Buildings. Perhaps they hope that we're collectively stupid enough not to notice they’re all members of the same party?

The Stormont debate came shortly after A&E services at the Royal Victoria Hospital ground to a halt. Days earlier, services at Craigavon Area Hospital Emergency Department also reportedly approached breaking point. The meltdown at both, follows a further reduction in services at both Lagan Valley and the Downe Hospital and of course, the lifting and shifting of A&E services from Belfast City Hospital to nowhere in particular. It’s a testimony to the skill and resilience of the staff, that a total collapse of the service was averted.

Quite rightly, the question many are asking is that at a time of record spending on health, how can this happen? The stock answer, trotted out for many years by successive Ministers, is to apportion blame upon a shortage of A&E Consultants.

Staff shortages, of course, can occur periodically in any sector - they always have done and probably always will do. They are usually overcome through a combination of upskilling, the training of new entrants, the rewriting of contracts to ensure staff can be deployed on demand across an organisation and through the selective use of incentives too.

None of this is rocket science; it’s common sense. Unless of course, you’re a Health Minister intent on slavishly following the failed policies of your Ulster Unionist, Sinn Fein and Direct Rule predecessors. For it’s increasingly clear that Edwin Poots isn’t just out of his depth, but also bang out of ideas. That’s why, for the sake of us all, I hope it’s not long before he’s also out of a job.