Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Latest budget crisis raises serious questions about Health Minister Edwin Poots' ability to deliver

It is fair to say that the NHS in Northern Ireland is in crisis, yet again, Mr Poots?
It is fair to say that the NHS in Northern Ireland is in crisis, yet again, Mr Poots?

Health Minister Edwin Poots is threatening to bust his budget, the outgoing chief medical officer has held unscheduled talks with the Deputy First Minister and the Belfast Trust claims it will not be able to deliver key services. 

It’s fair to say that the NHS in Northern Ireland is in crisis, yet again.

This endless sequence of high profile wrangles about health issues raises major questions about how the service here is being managed.

Michael McBride, the chief medical officer, says that care in Northern Ireland is falling behind the rest of the UK.  That’s a disturbing observation, but it’s also very relevant, because the NHS in England and Wales has struggled against exactly the same problems with funding experienced on this side of the Irish Sea.

That hasn’t stopped Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative Health Secretary at Westminster, from delivering spectacular improvements for patients. Over 850,000 more operations are now being performed, waiting lists have been slashed and hospitals are performing better on almost every measurement.

Our party has achieved these results by making difficult decisions, changing the management culture of the NHS and empowering doctors and nurses to get on with doing what they do best, treating patients and providing excellent care.

In Northern Ireland, funding for the health service continues to increase substantially.  Edwin Poots’ latest tantrum is because he’s received less extra money than he claims he needs, even though his budget is still rising steadily.

It’s clear that our executive has no stomach for the political hard work required to reform the way the NHS works, despite some good suggestions in the document ‘Transforming Your Care’.  In almost every department at Stormont, the only solution to any problem is to throw good money after bad.  The consequences for the NHS are A & Es in turmoil, spiralling costs and medical staff under unsustainable pressure.

Edwin Poots needs to start delivering more than histrionics.  Health funding is only one part of the picture.  Equally important are the determination to deliver good management and a willingness to take difficult decisions when they are needed.

The latest crisis raises serious questions about the Health Minister’s ability to deliver.  If Poots wants a lesson in how to tackle properly problems with the NHS, he should follow the example of the Conservative led government at Westminster.

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