Belfast Telegraph

Doug Beattie: This is not about spreading fear, it’s about seeing patients like my darling little grandson die on a waiting list

Cameron Tindale
Cameron Tindale

By Doug Beattie

Things have never looked so grim for the Northern Ireland Health Service. Waiting lists are at record levels, exceeding 300,000, and there are over 7,000 job vacancies, which include over 2,500 front line staff: nurses, carers, doctors and pharmacists. These figures are creating real hardship for many in Northern Ireland.

Within the NHS there is real anger and frustration that they are being valued less than their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales, yet due to poor resourcing and workforce management, many have to do extra work which is unpaid.

This has led to strike action by both clinical and non-clinical staff, taking us to a tipping point.

This tipping point has been reached after years of failure to address very real and serious problems within the NHS in Northern Ireland.

Previous reports, including the 2015/16 Commissioning Plan, warned that "increased waiting times for assessment may result in delayed diagnosis of a serious life-threatening condition with reduced likelihood of successful outcomes. Spiralling waiting times could lead to severely delayed diagnosis of life-threatening illness."

This is not about spreading fear, rather it is a reality that has seen patients die on waiting lists as far back as 2016.

Cameron Tindale was an outgoing little boy, funny, cheeky, loving and naughty with a developing personality that countered his two brothers perfectly, making them three brothers each with their own unique stamp on life. In early 2016, Cameron had a serious, prolonged seizure that lasted over an hour and 10 minutes.

Rushed to hospital, he received expert care from medical staff who were diligent, professional and extremely well trained.

They managed to bring him out of the seizure and later he was sent for an MRI scan to see what might have caused this seizure at the level witnessed. Cameron's brothers, mother and grandmother all have epilepsy and have all at one stage or another needed medical intervention.

Later, drugs were used to control the condition, so Cameron should have been red-flagged and indeed he was.

Having been looked after in hospital, Cameron was sent home to await a second MRI that would be viewed as more accurate, given the first was taken immediately after a seizure and may not have given a true reading of what was going on. This MRI was scheduled to happen within four weeks of the first.

Eight weeks later, the letter finally arrived to call Cameron forward for his second MRI - it arrived on the day Cameron's family buried him following his sudden death in the middle of the night.

After this tragic incident the question was put to the NHS as to why the MRI was late - be it only four weeks, but late nevertheless.

The reply was both startling and concerning. The family were told that these types of delays are built into the system due to workload, and the pressure of too many patients and not enough capacity.

The coroner said it was an opportunity missed, but for the family that was too late.

Our doctors, nurses, porters, sterile unit workers, laundry staff, paramedics, ambulance drivers and domestic staff worked as a single unit, with every one playing a positive part in Cameron's treatment.

In the end it was time that proved to be the biggest danger. The same time that threatens thousands of patients as they wait for treatment they should have already received, but instead are languishing on waiting lists on a scale that patients in the rest of the United Kingdom simply do not have to accept.

Our NHS staff are right to go on strike because this is not just about pay - this is about how we run our NHS here in Northern Ireland, its resources, its people and most importantly its patients.

Cameron was 18 months old and died on an NHS waiting list. He was my grandson.

Doug Beattie is Ulster Unionist MLA for Upper Bann

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