Editor's Viewpoint: Health should be top priority for all
Most of us can accept, however grudgingly, the need for rationalisation of healthcare facilities in Northern Ireland as the public spending cuts begin to bite.
A case in point is the closure of the accident and emergency unit at Belfast City Hospital. That can be borne provided that the other casualty units who will have to pick up the work are properly resourced, have senior staff to deal with patients and can physically cope with the extra workload. We must also be assured that the City Hospital will retain its teaching status and continue to attract medical staff of the calibre required for its specialist services.
But more worrying is the picture painted in this newspaper today of the full misery patients may face in the near future as health trusts struggle to meet government targets for patient treatment. Indeed it seems that they will not deliver the standard of service that is being laid down.
While it has to be accepted that targets are somewhat arbitrary in nature and don't always reflect patient need, in serious illnesses such as cancer any delay in diagnosis or treatment could be potentially lethal.
Anyone reading today's report will be filled with alarm at the prospects for healthcare in Northern Ireland in the coming years. If standards are set to slip to the degree outlined at this stage, the concern will be about what will happen in future years of austerity. This is no academic exercise but is dealing with real people and real people's lives.
Imagine the mental trauma many people will suffer if they are diagnosed with a serious illness but will have to wait a lengthy period for treatment because of lack of resources.
Health should be a number one priority for the Executive and not just for the Health Minister. It is a service which potentially affects everyone and every effort must be made to make the optimum funding available to it. Until we see real evidence that the issue is being addressed we should be intolerant of any diminution of care.