Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Despite his blind spot Poots does have vision

Edwin Poots
Edwin Poots

Edwin Poots has a blind-spot when it comes to his continuing ban on gay blood transfusions, his espousal of creationist displays and his determination to tighten up still further on abortion.

Yet, on other issues, he often shows the ability to set political gut feeling aside to get the best results for the people.

He was, for instance, an early advocate of the Maze reconciliation centre and, if it had been up to him, we would have had a multi-sports stadium there by now.

That was when he was environment minister is 2009. The suspicion was that he was shuffled out of the job because he and the rest of the DUP were still afraid to develop the site for fear a 'shrine to terrorism' might emerge. The delay has been costly.

At Health, Mr Poots has shown the ability to embrace cross-border projects where they make good economic sense and have the capacity to deliver to patients.

He regularly meets with James Reilly, the Dublin health minister, to look at how complex services can best be delivered to the people of the whole island.

Backing the cross-border cancer unit at Altnagelvin was relatively easy; that involved taking patients from the Republic in return for financial contributions from the Irish government, which would help develop expertise and improve facilities in Northern Ireland.

It is a win-win situation, with patients from Donegal being spared the long road journey to Dublin, just as Londonderry patients were spared the trip to Belfast. Last month, Mr Poots signalled that he also favoured developing children's cardiac services on an all-island basis.

The difference is that, this time, Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Dublin would take the lead and the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast would be run down. It is still out to consultation, but that is the obvious solution.

The hard facts are that the RVH cannot, on its own, sustain the number of operations needed to employ specialist children's cardiac surgeons and keep their skills up to date. About 250 babies with congenital heart disease are born here annually and last year, 90 heart surgery operations were carried out locally, with a further 40 taking place in either England or Dublin.

Travelling to England, possibly Bristol or Birmingham, is one solution, but that involves flights and is inconvenient for parents to visit their sick children.

Taking the motorway to Dublin by ambulance is a better solution and the distances involved in accessing the services are similar to those experienced by many patients in the Republic. Of course, just like Altnagelvin, Our Lady's in Crumlin will have to be built up to meet the cross-border demand and that would involve Northern Ireland investment, or possibly European investment.

This is an example of cross-border co-operation for the right reasons - because it gives the most vulnerable in our society a better chance.

It is a no-brainer and there are other potential areas for co-operation. Taking in southern patients could, for instance, help secure the future of Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry.

Making all this happen requires careful planning. Mr Poots should crack on with it.

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