Executive is failing our NHS
Another winter, another crisis for the NHS here. A&Es are struggling to cope and hospitals are backed up as patients wait for care packages to help get them home.
It's doctors, nurses and other medical staff who have to work around the clock to prevent complete collapse, but the blame lies squarely with Health Minister Simon Hamilton and the Executive. They constantly refuse to grapple with the problems at the heart of our NHS or reform it.
The NHS here spends more per head of the population than any other part of the UK, but its outcomes are the worst. Rather than make changes to put things right, successive ministers have sought more money for sticking plaster solutions.
One of those, Michael McGimpsey, is now a leading critic of Mr Hamilton, yet he didn't do any better and he still refuses to advocate the needed changes because they are not easy.
The Donaldson Report made 10 recommendations to radically improve how our NHS works. It noted that some hospitals were unable to provide consistently high levels of care because they were too small. Donaldson said a safer system might mean some facilities closing but added an international panel should decide how to reconfigure services.
Another key observation found that the Executive's Transforming Your Care (TYC) strategy, which was supposed to deliver care closer to home, had not been properly implemented. This failure goes to the heart of our annual winter crises. More patients present at A&E because alternative services have not been put in place. Meanwhile, hospitals struggle to find beds because the types of care TYC proposed have not been put in place.
These failures are down to the Executive's reluctance to take decisions which may be unpopular in the short-term. We're likely to see another winter of inaction too despite more money being available for reform, thanks to lower energy costs.
The Northern Irish public shouldn't have to suffer year after year because of inept politicians. It's time for a change. Voters can take their chance this year to shake things up at the Assembly.
- Johnny Andrews is economy spokesman for the NI Conservatives