Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Trust fall guy right to question sacking

The row between the former chairman of the Northern Trust Jim Stewart and Health Minister Edwin Poots has got very personal.

Mr Stewart was sacked by the minister and now he is demanding that Mr Poots should resign, arguing that statistics on breaches of waiting time targets at Antrim Area Hospital show that demands on the accident and emergency service are neither realistic nor achievable.

And he presents a quite compelling case showing that in March – even with extra resources and additional expertise from Britain – there were 299 breaches of the 12-hour limit patients should wait to receive treatment compared to 94 in the same month last year. Mr Stewart's sacking after a public row with the minister over targets was strange given that heads seldom roll in the health service.

For example, there was no similar action taken against anyone for the deaths of four babies in the pseudomonas outbreaks in Belfast and Londonderry a year ago.

Where the truth, or even the moral high ground, in the current row lies is something to be decided on another day. It would be more fruitful to examine if current A&E provision in the province is adequate to meet demand. The public perception certainly is that it is not.

While targets can be a meaningful way of ensuring efficient use of resources, the results can be massaged to indicate better performance than is actually achieved.

The minister might usefully look again at targets across the NHS to ensure that they set achievable outcomes without prejudicing care, which is, after all, the primary duty of the service. There is no doubt that staff in hospitals are under increasing pressure and no good purpose is served by blaming them when they fall short of arbitrary treatment times. Staff have no control over who, or how many, turn up at hospital doors, particularly during winter months and that should always be borne in mind, even by Mr Poots.

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