Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Politicians fiddling while the NHS burns

When it was announced that the five local health trusts planned to make savings of £70m, it was evident that this would have an impact on services. But it is only when that impact is spelled out, as in this newspaper today, that we realise the human cost of such decisions.

John Compton's article makes for very concerning reading. Those who are among the most vulnerable in society - the terminally ill and people requiring fairly intensive domiciliary care - will suffer most.

His chilling analysis that some people who have been assessed as needing a hospice bed die before one is available shows the level of pressure that sector of the healthcare system is experiencing, even before the cuts begin.

Other pressures highlighted include patients being kept in hospices or hospitals because there are no care packages available to enable them to live in their own homes. This bed-blocking also means other people are prevented from accessing vital services.

We reported yesterday how the Northern Trust was paying up to £100,000 for an agency nurse - the equivalent cost of four trust nurses - because there is a shortage of nurses in the province. The planned savings will reduce spending on agency staff, but that will inevitably put more pressure on existing staff already feeling the strain.

It could also mean a drain of workers away from smaller healthcare providers to bigger facilities, further reducing services.

As Mr Compton rightly points out, the situation would be even worse were it not for the role of carers who, at great expense to their personal finances and wellbeing, give devoted care to loved ones in their own homes. The pressure on them is also likely to increase.

While not quite a doomsday portrait, the picture painted in the article demands strong and decisive political leadership that will attempt to balance financial reality with human demand.

The NHS, like every other part of the governance of Northern Ireland, is currently rudderless. The situation is so urgent that local politicians must either fill the void - the preferred option of most people - or others must step in to do their job.

People are dying unable to access the compassionate and expert care delivered by our four adult hospices, which they deserve. We cannot continue to stand idly by.

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