Belfast Telegraph

SF's refusal to form Executive blamed as vital health service plan gathers dust one year on

By Suzanne Breen

Sinn Fein has been accused of putting narrow party interests ahead of NHS patients as a report warned that big decisions on the health service couldn’t be made because no Executive is in place.

An update one year on from the launch of the Bengoa Report revealed that some progress had been made on changing the way healthcare is delivered in Northern Ireland but it was mostly “preparatory and enabling work”.

The report stressed that ministers had to be in place to implement the 10-year road map.

“Whilst progress can continue to be made in bringing forward proposals for change, difficult decisions will be required, as set out by the Executive and the then minister (Michelle O’Neill) upon the launch of Delivering Together,” it stated.

“The nature of these decisions and their impact on the population warrants ministerial consideration,” it stressed.

The Bengoa Report was the Stormont Executive’s flagship blueprint to transform the health service. Launched amid much fanfare and rare political consensus among the main Stormont parties, the 10-year road map was the devolved administration’s response to an independent analysis of the struggling system by a panel of experts led by Spanish Professor Rafael Bengoa.

UUP health spokesman Roy Beggs said: “All this progress report has done is illustrate that there hasn’t been much progress made at all.

“It is outrageous that despite January 2017 being a target date to have a full strategy in place to tackle waiting lists, 10 months later not a single action has been taken and waiting times have never been so bad.

“When Michelle O’Neill stood in the Assembly last October and warned that our health service was at breaking point, she said that as minister she would provide the leadership needed to drive change.

“Within months Sinn Fein had walked away from the Assembly, placing party politics ahead of the needs of patients.”

Former DUP health minister Simon Hamilton said: “For most of the last 12 months Northern Ireland has been without a functioning Executive to take forward the much-needed reform of our health service.

“In blocking the formation of an Executive, Sinn Fein has placed party political demands ahead of the needs of patients.”

SDLP health spokesman Mark H Durkan urged the DUP and Sinn Fein to compromise so power-sharing could be restored and Bengoa implemented.

“Patients continue to pay the price of political failure,” he said.

“That is unacceptable.

“It’s time for the parties with the big mandates to come to an honourable compromise and get on with the business of delivering a health service that meets the needs of those who use it.”

Alliance health spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw said the health officials’ report on the response to Bengoa showed “remarkable progress” — but added the process would “run out of road” without a minister in place.

Addressing Sinn Fein and the DUP, the South Belfast MLA said: “Still we have political leaders whose main interest is in diverting blame on to others rather than recognising with the biggest mandates come the biggest responsibilities.

“The political deal, including all-party agreement to implement the Bengoa proposals, is there to be done and we should be getting on with the job and focusing on serving the public interest without delay.”

Sinn Fein health spokesman Pat Sheehan said it is important that work continues on the plan set out by Ms O’Neill.

“A number of commitments have been delivered and clearly preparatory and enabling work is ongoing,” he said.

“Transformation must be based firmly on the principle of working in partnership with those who use, and those who deliver, health and social care services. It must also be underpinned by sufficient additional funding as identified by Michelle O’Neill from the outset.”

Yesterday’s report also warned that more investment was required to deliver the transformation in healthcare.

“The financial position remains challenging and this is not anticipated to change,” it said. “The executive agreed that transformation cannot happen without investment. It is inevitable that the pace of transformation will be impacted by the level of funding available.”

Belfast Telegraph

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