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Editor's Viewpoint

Action needed after waiting list deaths

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12 people die every day while on a health waiting list - a total of 22,000 in the last five years (stock photo)

12 people die every day while on a health waiting list - a total of 22,000 in the last five years (stock photo)

PA Archive/PA Images

12 people die every day while on a health waiting list - a total of 22,000 in the last five years (stock photo)

Statistics can be very cold. When we hear that 306,180 people were on waiting lists for healthcare in September we are shocked by the sheer volume of patients. But when we read our story today that, on average, 12 people die every day while on a health waiting list - a total of 22,000 in the last five years - the impact of the pressures on the health service suddenly become very real. The statistics are not just shocking, they are totally unacceptable.

From the outset it has to be made clear that not all those who die while awaiting treatment are killed by the condition which put them on the waiting list. By the very nature of things a substantial number of those people will be elderly and prone to more than one potentially fatal condition. Yet there must be many who do die from the condition which got them referred to hospital in the first instance.

What needs to be done is detailed research into the waiting lists and the outcomes - including deaths - to see how the lists can be shortened as quickly as possible and that the most appropriate care is delivered to everyone as soon as feasible.

There was almost unbounded optimism at the weekend when devolved government was restored and when the Health Minister said money would be available to end the health workers' strikes and to tackle the waiting lists.

But as this newspaper pointed out - and takes no pleasure in doing so - the politicians were foolish to imagine that vague promises of untold billions would be delivered.

Anyone prepared to take the assurances of the present government and Prime Minister at Westminster at face value is no student of recent history.

Analysing the waiting lists is no easy task as some health trust figures relate to financial years and some to calendar years, but we can safely say that the figures for deaths which rose by almost 50% in the five years since 2014 and have increased annually cover the period when Northern Ireland was without a functioning administration.

Those politicians who absented themselves from Stormont for three years cannot escape the blame for the decline in the health service as well as other public services.

In reparation perhaps they can now make reasoned cases for the funding required to begin to transform services and use that money wisely when, and if, they receive it.

Stormont has never been a byword for thrift or innovation but it needs to be so in future.

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