I recently met a lady who is a stalwart of the health service. She declined the opportunity in the 1960s to become a doctor. Instead, wanting to be closer to the patient, she entered nursing.
Softly spoken and mild-mannered, this woman devoted her life to looking after others. Like us all, she has her own beliefs but ordinarily has little interest in politics. However, she felt compelled to express her alarm at DUP proposals to replace the emergency department at Lagan Valley with what she describes as a ‘lumps and bumps units on steroids’.
In half an hour, she articulated her very real concerns for the future of emergency care in Northern Ireland. And having worked for decades at the sharp end, she didn’t just identify the problems, but suggested solutions.
Among them was the greater use of nurse consultants; the renegotiation of consultant contracts to incentivise young medics to pursue careers in specialties where there are shortages, increasing training and retraining opportunities, direct employment and deployment of medical personnel by the Department of Health, ensuring the right services are in the right place, an increased use of telemedicine, a focus on frontline services… and more besides.
It was a conversation I found useful. Recently, the Health Minister did something similar, when he met with nurses in Belfast. But as well as listening, as events this week at the Royal Victoria A&E again demonstrate, Edwin Poots must now act on what he is told by frontline staff and by patients too.
I’m not however holding my breath. His track record is of someone who refuses to listen, refuses to engage and who prefers to hide behind an army of bureaucrats, managers, reports and so-called experts. Alongside his poor judgement, and despite the valiant efforts of frontline staff, people are suffering on Minister Poots’s watch.
That’s why for things to improve, change must now come at ministerial level. And that’s why as my UKIP colleague David Jones recently said, "It’s time to give Poots the boot" - because someday, it might be you or me marooned on a trolley in the Royal.