Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: NHS now faces its greatest challenge

Today two health stories make difficult reading in this newspaper. One is a warning by Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, which starkly warns that the health service here is on the edge of a cliff and about to topple into the abyss unless action is taken
Today two health stories make difficult reading in this newspaper. One is a warning by Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, which starkly warns that the health service here is on the edge of a cliff and about to topple into the abyss unless action is taken

Editor's Viewpoint

Today two health stories make difficult reading in this newspaper. One is a warning by Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, which starkly warns that the health service here is on the edge of a cliff and about to topple into the abyss unless action is taken.

The other is the treatment of mental health illnesses. Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride warns that one in five people will experience mental health problems at some stage.

The theme of this year's World Mental Health Day is suicide prevention. Northern Ireland has the worst record in the UK with an average of five people dying by their own hand each week.

This may be partly explained by the fact that this is a society emerging from a brutal and very personal conflict, but there are other problems which need tackled.

Firstly the stigma of seeking help for mental health issues needs to be removed. A survey of the workforce in Belfast released today showed more than 70% felt if they told their boss they had mental health problems, it would have a negative effect on their job.

Yet as two brave women revealed on our pages today, it was opening up to others and seeking support which enabled them to address their own mental health problems.

According to Mr Pengelly the NHS in the province is as sick as any of the patients seeking its help. Rising waiting lists and frustration among staff and increased demand at a time when there is insufficient funding is at the root of the crisis.

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Blueprints to streamline and increase the efficiency of the NHS here - Delivering Together and the Bengoa Report - have stalled due to the lack of a functioning power-sharing administration at Stormont and there is little optimism that it will be resurrected any time soon, if at all.

Scandalously the net result is that the NHS, the jewel in the social policy crown of every government in the last 70 years, is facing the greatest challenges in its history. Nothing is more important than the health of the population but this is a fact which either escapes, or is ignored by, the DUP and Sinn Fein, the parties which hold the keys to devolution. The mutual blame game no longer washes.

The question then arises, who will take the difficult decisions which are required to repair the NHS? We cannot allow it to slip over the edge of the cliff and crash into oblivion.

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