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Health Minister O'Neill under fire for being too tame in crisis

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 08/06/2016

Criticised: Michelle O’Neill
Criticised: Michelle O’Neill

A speech in which the new Health Minister promised to tackle hospital waiting lists has been criticised for having a "tame tone".

Criticising Michelle O'Neill during an Assembly debate yesterday, UUP health spokeswoman Jo-Anne Dobson said the situation could only be described as an "unprecedented" crisis that had "taken the breath away" of health experts in other parts of the UK.

More than 20% of the population here are currently on a waiting list and there were 376,382 people waiting for a first outpatient appointment, diagnostic test or inpatient treatment as of March 31, 2016,

During the debate there was strong cross-party support for working collaboratively with the new minister to address the growing problem.

Sinn Fein's Ms O'Neill revealed on Monday that an extra £3m allocated to addressing the waiting times crisis last November had helped approximately 80,000 patients.

However, a UUP motion called on the Health Minister to detail the precise action that she proposes to take to address the rising numbers of people stuck on hospital waiting lists.

"We desperately need to move to a sustainable model in order to allow our health service to plan for the future," Mrs Dobson told the Assembly chamber.

"We need genuine reforms, not ploys, and I look forward to working with the new minister."

She also emphasised the needed "to work collaboratively" on the issue with the minister and other parties to get the best outcome for patients.

During her maiden speech, Alliance Party MLA Paula Bradshaw said the reason the problem was worse here than elsewhere in the UK was that the health service was unreformed.

"Too many people have waited too long for action on reform to make our health service fit for purpose for the thousands of patients currently waiting for vital treatment," she added.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt asked the Health Minister to focus on mental health during her term. "It's high time it was given the priority and resources needed," he said.

His party colleague Robbie Butler added: "Health is an issue which is far too important to get caught up in political wrangling."

Ms O'Neill said she fully understood why the motion was brought before the house.

"The issue of excessive waiting lists is totally unacceptable," the Sinn Fein MLA said.

"The June monitoring (round) isn't the solution, but it is the solution in the short-term.

"Money isn't just the issue in the long-term. I want to be working on transforming the health service."

She added that she would "not be apologetic" in bidding for additional funding as the Assembly has to deal with the "here and now".

Mrs O'Neill said she was awaiting the health review report by Professor Bengoa due to be published at the end of this month. She also welcomed that there were suggestions of politicians wanting to work together and said she was "open to suggestions."

The motion was passed.

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