Belfast Telegraph

Childish Northern Ireland politicians failing us all

Editor's Viewpoint

Let us tell a few home truths, something which the meeting between Health Minister Edwin Poots and his scrutiny committee failed to do yesterday. The stance of Sinn Fein and the SDLP in blocking welfare reform is the equivalent of a little boy putting his fingers in his ears and going around singing 'na na na'.

The penalties – loss of money to the Northern Ireland block grant – are real, and they will impact on future budgets even more severely than at present. This is the worst kind of immature politicking.

But even that ridiculous stance is not the whole reason for the problems of the NHS. A rapidly ageing population means growing demands on the health service, both in hospital and in the community, and radical changes will have to be made. There needs to be more thinking outside the box because the cost of modern medicines and new technologies will inevitably rise.

However, none of this was explored at yesterday's meeting. Instead we had dire warnings from the minister and the chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride as to what will happen if more money is not pumped into the health budget. Yet even they were not totally convincing that this was the answer.

Given the doomsday picture being painted, it was sad, but not surprising, that no member of the scrutiny committee probed more forensically on why money continues to be wasted in the health service when it is the lifeblood of that service. Was the still unproven Transforming Your Care programme which seeks early intervention to prevent later expensive hospital care really properly costed and thought through?

We also deserved a clearer explanation of why unbudgeted extra spending seems to continually happen. It seems that ministers expect their budgets to constantly rise to take account of this lax book-keeping. It would be reassuring to learn that they take tough decisions on spending before coming up with disaster scenarios.

After all, the latest figures show spending per capita on health here is higher than in England and Wales.

Where rapier questioning and objective inquiry might have shed more light on these matters yesterday, sadly what we got was party politics and repetitive dogma.

Belfast Telegraph

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