Stories about the pressure the Health Service is under in Northern Ireland emerge on an almost weekly basis. One particularly pressing issue is the logjam which is occurring with alarming regularity in accident and emergency departments.
Figures on the number of hospital beds in Northern Ireland, obtained by the TUV, provide something of the explanation for this.
Across Northern Ireland the number of hospital beds has fallen by 1,199 since 2007. That represents over 16% of the total.
In the Belfast Trust the number of beds has been slashed by nearly 20% in just five years.
Whatever one says about the Heath Minister you certainly cannot accuse him of giving special treatment to Lisburn’s Lagan Valley Hospital. There the average number of beds available was 144.4 in 2009 but is now just 91.2 – a fall of 36.84%, more than twice the Northern Ireland average.
You cannot cut hundreds of hospital beds and then be surprised when accident and emergency departments are choked with trolley waits – that’s if the A&E is even open. The A&Es at Lagan Valley and Downe hospitals have only been open from Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm since January.
The Health Minister liked to put up the John Compton to act as the fall guy.
The reality is that the buck stops with the Minister – something the DUP were not slow in pointing out when the UUP held the health portfolio.
The elections in May will provide the electorate to give their verdict on a number of key issues, one of which will be the running down of the NHS under Minister Poots.