Belfast Telegraph

Courage needed to resolve health crisis

Editor's Viewpoint

The stark financial crisis facing the National Health Service in Northern Ireland is outlined clearly in today's newspaper by John Compton, a former chief executive of the Health and Social Care Board.

This highly-respected figure has warned that our health service is facing a potential overspend of more than £300 million this year.

This amount - for only one year - dwarfs the huge sum of the Renewable Heat Incentive, which may cost nearly £500m over the next 20 years.

Mr Compton also stresses that our health service is in an "unsustainable financial state", and that the political impasse at Stormont is making the situation worse.

The current massive shortfall in the Northern Ireland health service will further increase waiting lists, and this will have a significant impact on the daily running of the organisation.

All of this is spiralling out of control even before we make crucial decisions on long-running matters such as the supply of cancer drugs, some of which come at a very high cost.

Mr Compton provides a forensic account of how the costs will continue to increase, and what appears to be our politicians' "sticking-plaster" approach to deal with the ongoing crisis.

This is little more than plugging the shortfall from monitoring rounds, only for the debt to reappear.

The fundamental tenet underlying the NHS is that it should be free at the point of contact.

However, there is clearly a need for brave and visionary reform.

While the five main parties here support proposals in the Bengoa Report published last October, we have no idea if they have the will, and the courage, to see these through, especially in facing difficult decisions about the centralisation of services, and other matters.

Unfortunately, it is obvious that despite the sterling efforts of many who work in our health service the situation is getting perilous.

The absence of a working Assembly is making matters even worse.

Politics does not get any more real than ensuring that the sick and elderly receive the care they need.

These fundamental questions should occupy the minds of all our politicians as the top-level talks start again this week.

The huge NHS problem is there: but do they really care?

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