New junior contract not right for Northern Ireland
Health consumes 57% of Northern Ireland's budget, so it's particularly disappointing that for six weeks Health Minister Simon Hamilton was not at his desk while the DUP indulged in the pantomime of having its ministers resign and renominate every week.
His absence was serious because the health service faces so many big challenges, in particular serious increasing waiting lists, the need to implement reforms set out in the Donaldson Report, and the proposed new contract for junior doctors.
One of the benefits of devolution, when it works well, is that we're able to tailor policies to the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland.
Scotland and Wales have decided not to implement the 'junior contract' put forward by Westminster Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, and Conservatives in Northern Ireland think that it shouldn't be implemented here either.
The Government has proposed to change standard hours for junior doctors - who form the backbone of the health service - as well as altering the way that health trusts monitor how long their staff have worked.
The broad aim is to deliver more services in hospitals at the weekends.
We believe Northern Ireland's health service faces particular difficulties, which mean that these changes shouldn't be introduced here. There are severe recruitment problems in our health service, with young doctors attracted to work in Australia and other places where they believe they will receive better terms and conditions. Doctors are concerned that the contract will mean more work and less pay.
Health professionals are worried that longer hours and shorter breaks, which could be the outcome of the new contract, may compromise patient safety. We support the aim of delivering more health services seven days a week, but we don't think it can happen without recruiting more doctors, which the Executive cannot currently do because it is wasting so much money by failing to implement welfare reform.
Simon Hamilton should say clearly that the new junior contract is not appropriate for Northern Ireland's health service.
- Johnny Andrews is NI Conservatives spokesman on the economy