Stormont talks: Northern Ireland health leaders urge parties to break deadlock
DUP and Sinn Fein told to put patients first and restore Assembly
Northern Ireland's political parties must break the current stalemate and put patients first, senior health leaders have said.
In an unprecedented move, organisations that represent thousands of doctors and nurses have come together to issue a desperate plea to politicians to find an end to the deadlock that has been going on for nearly three years.
They said that the political stalemate over the last three years has contributed to the healthcare crisis.
The organisations said they took the decision to release a statement "due to the severity of the situation" facing the health service here.
On Wednesday, tens of thousands of health workers here will stage crippling strike action in their fight for better pay and increased staffing levels, while more than 300,000 people are currently waiting for a first outpatient appointment.
It comes as politicians here return to talks on Monday after last week's Westminster election.
A joint statement from The British Medical Association, Royal College of Emergency Medicine NI, Royal College of Surgeons of England, Royal College of General Practitioners (NI), Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Psychiatrists NI, the Royal College of Radiologists UK and the Northern Irish Board of the Royal College of Anaesthetists said patients must be put back at the heart of the health service.
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"We need decisive action and political leadership to end the current gridlock," it said. "Problems in our health care system have been building for many years."
The statement said that, despite successive reviews recommending reform of the health service, change has not happened quickly enough.
We urge political parties across Northern Ireland to put patients first - break the stalemate, restore our government and transform our health service without further delay. Joint statement
It said local elected politicians at Stormont are needed to drive the changes. "To reform our health service we need political leadership and sustainable long-term planning with decisions being made by locally-elected politicians operating from Stormont. We need this now - patients cannot be forced to wait any longer for the healthcare they need," it continued.
"Crucially, we must have additional sustained investment in health to help address waiting lists and other escalating pressures, along with a full and frank debate on budgetary priorities across our public services.
"Events over recent weeks have highlighted just how precarious the situation is across our health system.
"Staff throughout the service are working above and beyond on a regular basis to ensure patients are being treated and cared for safely and appropriately but they feel they are at breaking point.
"Political inactivity over the last three years has contributed to this crisis. Although it is not the sole cause, the lack of an accountable health minister has resulted in decisions being deferred, blame passed around and sustainable transformation put on the back foot.
"As organisations representing the medical and nursing community here we see the reality of this fractured system every day and watch patients suffer.
"As a society we must do better. We urge political parties across Northern Ireland to put patients first - break the stalemate, restore our government and transform our health service without further delay."
Stormont has been in cold storage for more than 1,000 days due to a stand-off between Sinn Fein and the DUP on issues such as Irish language legislation and a ban on same-sex marriage.
Disappointing General Election results for the DUP and Sinn Fein have been interpreted by some as the public giving a damning judgment on the two largest parties' ongoing failure to strike a deal to resurrect the crisis-hit power-sharing institutions at Stormont.