Belfast Telegraph

NHS needs a cure, not just more cuts

Health Minister Edwin Poots is a man with an uneviable task, trying to satisfy increasing demands for services with diminishing resources and he is to be commended for acting speedily in tackling the problem of rationalising accident and emergency (A&E) services.

It was a courageous decision to flag up the closure of the emergency unit at Belfast City Hospital and cut back opening hours at the unit at Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn. Politicians don't win votes by threatening provision of facilities to voters, however rational the decision may be.

But the minister must go further. There are a whole raft of problems in the health service locally. There is a shortage of junior doctors and an uneven spread of specialisms throughout the hospital sector. There is also a question mark over the number of hospitals and the length of waiting lists. Should the number of hospitals be reduced, never mind just the number of A&E units and would that provide a higher level of medical care through the concentration of resources on fewer sites?

Mr Poots has initiated a consultation on A&E services, but he should move to have a strategic examination of the entire service. Perhaps the formation of a commission at Stormont to hear evidence from both medical and lay people would be a good starting point. The medical viewpoint on how to provide optimum services can differ widely from public expectation and doctors, managers and politicians need to listen to all sides of the argument before formulating a way ahead.

The public concern is that the current serious financial problems will lead to the health service being salami sliced simply in an attempt to meet the budget without a proper cohesive and coherent strategy in place. Services will be sacrificed as and when required, leading to an overall diminution of care and treatment. The NHS is too important - it literally is about life and death - to be treated on an ad hoc basis. Creating a workable over-arching plan for the future should be an Executive priority.

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