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Editor's Viewpoint: Ministerial row misses the point

Published 05/03/2010

The sound of two ministers at Stormont squabbling is not an unfamiliar one.

Indeed, it seems at times the various parties spend more time attempting to score points against each other, than trying to make the power-sharing administration function properly. The latest row is over lengthening waiting lists for hospital treatment.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey argues that the increase in waiting times is because extra funding to cope with the expected swine flu epidemic was delayed. This is denied by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson who said the money was paid but never used.

It is impossible to say which version is correct, but what is obvious is that funding was diverted to cope with a swine flu pandemic which never materialised. As a result less money was available to pay for treatment for people on the waiting list. It can be argued that health officials were correct to plan prudently for the expected pandemic, but, equally, the gravity of the swine flu threat was greatly exaggerated.

With hindsight many people are now questioning why the warnings about a pandemic were so grave. Estimates of the number of people likely to be affected – and likely to die – were so wide of the mark that it calls into question the information on which they were based. The only people who seem to have prospered from the health scare were the drug companies which sold huge stockpiles of their products.

It is now incumbent on Mr Wilson and Mr McGimpsey to settle their argument and decide how best to use the available funds to speed up treatment for patients. The number of people waiting to be seen as both outpatients and inpatients has risen significantly. They are the victims of an epidemic that never was. Their treatment should not be further delayed by a public spat between ministers.

Belfast Telegraph

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