Editor's Viewpoint: Health services in Northern Ireland are on a cliff edge... and people here have little faith in Stormont pulling them back
Many people are aware from first-hand experience of the grave deficiencies in the NHS here, and there is further evidence of this in the hard-hitting report by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.
It states bluntly that the absence of a working Assembly at Stormont has pushed our health service to the point of collapse, and has warned that if our politicians do not deal with this in an Executive, the Westminster administration will need to step in.
In Northern Ireland we fall far short of the rest of the UK. The report reveals that in 2016-17, mental health services here were given only 5.2% of the health budget compared to 13.3% in England. Stormont's ambitious 31-day target for cancer services has not been met for almost six years. High nursing vacancies are also singled out, and the committee has underlined that we have a "suicide epidemic" in Northern Ireland.
Another worry is that the extra money obtained by the DUP for its confidence and supply arrangement with the Tories at Westminster has been used to keep services afloat. What will happen when this money runs out?
The Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly, has already warned that health services here are on a cliff edge. Patients and their families are worried, and many feel helpless when faced with such long waiting lists, even for so-called "urgent" appointments. It seems that the once-lauded Bengoa Report, which promised so much, is gathering dust.
The Northern Ireland Committee Report rightly expresses frustration at the health service here, and calls for a more enlightened strategy. Sadly, there has been so much experience of delays, cutbacks and long waiting lists, that people - even those directly affected - have lost heart about the whole thing.
It is a dreadful state of affairs that the continued orange-green bickering in Stormont creates such a malaise in our politics that our people on all sides are suffering so badly because of inaction and lack of vision. We all deserve much better than this.
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