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It's up to us to use NHS responsibly

By Fearghal McKinney

Published 11/12/2015

Fearghal McKinney MLA is deputy leader of the SDLP and the party's health spokesperson
Fearghal McKinney MLA is deputy leader of the SDLP and the party's health spokesperson

As people prepare to welcome in the festive season many will have just one wish - the gift of good health for themselves and their loved ones.

While we can't control our health or the diagnosis a family member may receive, what we can and should control is the way our hospitals, GP surgeries and pharmacies function and interact.

Our health system is archaic and utterly outdated. It is not in keeping with the significant social, economic and cultural changes which have taken place over the past 40 years.

Even if we were to have an infinite pot of gold I believe our health system would still buckle under the pressures of systemic failures and bad practice.

With people living longer, we need to invest in community services rather than over-burdening hospitals. Community services have been depleted, which has driven many older people to local hospitals, placing extra pressure on health workers and leaving older people compromised.

Equally, GP surgeries are overrun and hospitals are forced to deal with the overflow. Community pharmacies have a crucial role to play in relieving the burden.

Community pharmacies are a front door to the health system and play a vital role in filtering out a number of less serious medical cases. They - like many other excellent primary services - should be a first port of call for patients.

Needs must be met in the community first. All parts of the service are taking the strain - it is clear that the problems stem from dysfunctional patient flows.

A balance must be struck in terms of the flow of patients presenting at hospital, GP surgeries and pharmacies.

While politicians and the Department of Health have a key responsibility to reform our health system, we all bear a collective responsibility for how we use it.

What we need is a cultural shift in our attitude towards how we interact with and use our healthcare system.

Once we realign our health service to the needs of people living in 2015 we will begin to see much better outcomes all round.

This is something we should all reflect on over the Christmas period and in the new year to come.

Fearghal McKinney MLA is deputy leader of the SDLP and the party's health spokesperson

Belfast Telegraph

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