Sinn Fein must put patients before party politics, warns DUP
The DUP is calling on Sinn Fein to "put the needs of patients above the demands of their party" and restore power-sharing to tackle the growing NHS crisis here.
Strangford MLA Peter Weir reminded Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill of her promises to prioritise reform when she became health minister.
"There has been no reform of the health service because Sinn Fein have placed their party-political demands as a higher priority than growing waiting lists," he said.
"There has been no reform of the health service because Michelle O'Neill walked away from her desk and away from the route map to deliver that reform.
"The problems were exacerbated by a finance minister who walked away from his desk without even completing the one job expected of him - to deliver a budget to fund vital public services, including the health service."
Mr Weir claimed Sinn Fein was refusing to engage in talks with other parties. "Their actions do not indicate a party seeking to find solutions, but rather putting forward excuses for their intransigence," he said.
"We believe devolution is in the best interests of Northern Ireland and, despite the difficulties involved in making it work, we are committed to restoring the executive. Sinn Fein must step forward and put the needs of everyone above the demands of their party."
But Sinn Fein MLA John O'Dowd said if the DUP was sincere about the problems facing the health service it would end its support for "Tory austerity" and would focus on restoring devolution "on a sustainable basis".
"The DUP have piled the pressure onto our hard-pressed public services by giving the Tory government a blank cheque for its austerity policies and vicious cuts to frontline services," he said.
Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan said the pressures on accident and emergency departments meant the situation was "not sustainable".
He added: "A workforce strategy is needed to begin to address existing staff shortages and to ensure we retain the existing staff who continue to deliver vital health services under extremely challenging situations."
Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw directly appealed to Ms O'Neill to deliver a restored executive urgently.
"We hear stories of severe budgetary pressures, unacceptable waiting lists, unbelievable pressures in emergency departments, collapsing GP practices and more," she said.
The South Belfast MLA said her party had put forward workable proposals for a "robust Irish Language Act" and had advocated reforming the petition of concern to allow for marriage equality.
"Yet we have seen no practical solutions coming forward from Sinn Fein," she stated. "I would ask, for the sake of all who use our health and social care sector, that the last health minister lead her party back to the talks table urgently to restore an Executive."
UUP MLA Roy Beggs expressed doubts that hospitals here were as prepared as those in Britain to handle the winter flu outbreak.
"I would query whether hospitals in Northern Ireland were placed on high alert as many across the rest of the UK were after the major flu outbreaks in Australia and New Zealand," he said.
"Trusts being forced to appeal to staff over social media to come to work would perhaps indicate that not all preparations that could have been taken were taken."
Mr Beggs said the lack of a minister denied the health service stability and long-term planning.
"Michelle O'Neill previously said when she was minister she was prepared to show the leadership necessary to take our health service forward, but in reality all she did was walk away just when patients and our health workers needed a minister the most," he added.
SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan is seeking an urgent meeting with Trust chiefs over the health crisis.
"Daily, patients and staff come to me seeking help, they are at breaking point with the situation. It cannot go on. People must come first," he said.
"I have contacted the heads of each Trust in Northern Ireland seeking an urgent meeting to find a way forward.
"The SDLP believes healthcare must be prioritised and that political leadership is required. We know that transformation is the answer; however, due to the ongoing political deadlock that urgently needed transformation has fallen aside.
His party colleague, Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly, expressed concern about the situation in Craigavon Area Hospital's accident and emergency department which she described as "unsustainable".