Belfast Telegraph

We need clinical priorities, not political ones

By Deirdre Heenan

Is there really a health budget crisis? Or is this simply political gamesmanship?

While Northern Ireland's health service budget has been protected from immediate cuts, the minister claims that £160m more is needed. Could this be true?

Is it due to financial mismanagement, over-reliance on private healthcare or a lack of scrutiny or oversight? In short, additional funding is required and there are three main reasons for this.

The first is demographic trends – our population is growing faster than anywhere else in the UK. Between 2009 and 2020, the number of people over 75 will increase by 40%, while over 85-year-olds will increase by 58%.

Ageing is a cause for celebration, but as the number of older people grows it is likely that those with chronic conditions and multiple disabilities will also increase.

Secondly, scientific developments mean new treatments and drugs are becoming available. These can transform lives but tend to be expensive.

The third reason is inflationary pressures. These are much higher in the health sector than in other areas – at around 6% per year compared to an average of 2%.

Underfunding means we will continue to focus on current demand and need rather than strategies to reduce it in the future.

Transforming Your Care 2011 set out a roadmap for change and was endorsed by all political parties.

It is, however, a long-term plan that requires political support, leadership, commitment and appropriate funding.

Devolution means local politicians making choices, difficult decisions and setting key priorities – not salami-slicing budgets to 'share the pain' equally or protecting fiefdoms.

Our politicians must collectively acknowledge and respond to the significant challenges faced in health and social care, and ensure that we have a model of healthcare that is fit for purpose.

Headline-grabbing for political or personal gain, whilst causing widespread distress and confusion, hardly constitutes good governance.

Health policy should be determined by clinical priorities and not by political ones.

  • Professor Deirdre Heenan is pro-vice-chancellor of communication at the University of Ulster. She was involved in the development of the Transforming Your Care strategy

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