Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Our political failure is deepening NHS crisis

When Professor Rafael Bengoa delivered his report on transforming how health and social care services in Northern Ireland are delivered, he said the NHS here was trying to perform 21st century medicine in a model that comes from the last century.

Several reports in our newspaper today show how the system is straining - and on occasion failing - because the current model is not working properly given the huge demands on it.

Although more and more people are being admitted to hospital - 10,000 up on the figure of four years ago - the number of beds has fallen.

This is particularly acute in the field of mental health, a sector which has consistently been under-resourced.

Patients are not immune from blame, with almost one in 10 not turning up for appointments without giving proper notice. Hospitals cancelled more than 155,000 appointments, with around a third because no suitable consultant was available.

The latter reason shows the difficulties staff within the NHS are facing and the need to ensure that adequate numbers of senior doctors are both employed and available when required.

But it is not just in hospitals where the system is not working properly. Discharging patients, particularly those suffering from mental health issues, to appropriate social care is a recurrent problem, meaning that they have to be kept in wards, tying up beds.

One patient had to wait for more than three years to be discharged, and five others had to be kept for a year.

While the growing demand for treatment is placing an understandable strain on the NHS here, there can be less acceptance of the lengthy delays in investigating patients' complaints. In one instance it took four years to investigate a complaint, and an investigative website found that 105 cases here took from a few months to years.

These were serious issues and it is proper that they should be be investigated thoroughly, but the lengthy delays in some instances seem inexplicable.

The health service is consistently the number one priority when people are asked to name their most important publicly funded service.

Yet at a time when it is under unprecedented strain, there is no Minister of Health at Stormont to set in train the transformation of services required. Many people are sick of this political stasis.

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