Parties should focus on growing GP crisis
As the parties at Stormont continue to be bogged down in their self-made political crisis, another sign of the real crisis in healthcare is taking place a very short distance away.
A GP practice in the Tullycarnet area of east Belfast is due to close next month, leaving hundreds of patients to find alternative services elsewhere in the city.
But this is only the latest example of what is a growing problem among GPs.
The reasons for the crisis in GP cover - which affects all counties in Northern Ireland - is that too few young doctors are entering general practice, preferring instead to follow the career route to hospital consultant. As well, too few training places for GPs are available to meet the expected vacancies caused by retiring family doctors.
This is a problem which has been building up for several years. However, the constant changing of Health Ministers and the concentration on other healthcare issues such as waiting lists and pressures in A&E departments has let the problem fester until now.
It can be argued that the medical profession and the health authorities should shoulder some of the blame for a problem which should have been foreseen, but the solution lies with the politicians.
That, however, presupposes that the parties at Stormont can find a way to bury their personal and political grievances and return to the job for which they were elected, to govern the province.
The public cares little about the red lines which the parties say they will not cross in these discussions - like who can be put forward as First Minister or who will chair the all-party talks. These are distractions from the real day-to-day issues which affect ordinary people, most significantly in healthcare.
Family doctors are the gatekeepers to the health service. They are the first port of call for people when they feel unwell and it is their diagnosis which determines who should be referred on for further specialist treatment or whose problems will essentially heal themselves.
If the family doctor service is further eroded, it could lead to chaos in the health service. People with serious illnesses may not be picked up until too late or hospitals could be overrun with self-referring patients.
At its worst, this is a problem which is a matter of life and death. That is one red line which our politicians should definitely not cross.