Belfast Telegraph

Politicians cannot dodge necessity of NHS radical surgery

Editor's Viewpoint

The unhealthy state of much of the National Health Service continues to be an election issue, and also a topic which causes concern among the vast majority of its users - members of the general public.

Our story about Sylvia Nelson-Blake, an 84-year-old woman in Banbridge who has had to wait two years for surgery, underlines just how much improvement is needed. She has received an apology from the Belfast Trust, which was told about the situation by this newspaper. The questionable condition of our Health Service was highlighted this week by a report from Sir Liam Donaldson, who recommended the closure of a number of hospitals.

This was partly to ensure a better use of resources for the remaining hospitals, and Sir Liam's suggestions may well have merit in a proper strategic approach to handling our healthcare.

However, Sir Liam is not the first outsider, nor will he be the last, to underestimate the local political sensibilities, and no member of any party is going to propose, much less accept, such radical measures in the run-up to the May elections.

Nevertheless, the main problems will remain long after the election is over, and our politicians will still be faced with difficult decisions. This is not something which they like, but the recent experience over the budget proposals has shown that our politicians can take some difficult decisions, even if they go right to the wire in doing so.

Measures to reassure the public about the future of the NHS have to be implemented sooner or later, and a start must be made by initiating an informed Northern Ireland-wide debate on this important and contentious subject.

This should not be confined to vested interests. It must be opened up to everyone, and some important home truths will have to be faced. The alternative is to continue to hobble along and using sticking plaster, whereas radical surgery on the NHS here is needed. Anything less will merely increase the problems for the future.

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