Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Politicians must get act together to save our health service

A 10-year-old Co Down boy suffering from a urology problem that could be cured by a relatively routine procedure will have to wait four years for the operation.

That is four years of continued pain, possibly four years off school — he is currently in P7 and would be preparing for his GCSEs by the time he reaches the top of the waiting list — and four years of living like a recluse when he used to be so active.

That is the reality of long waiting lists. That is the reality of a failure to deal with the systemic problems within the health service. That is the reality of under investment in what was — and remains in many cases — the jewel in public services.

Anyone who read journalist Chris Ryder’s account in this newspaper at the weekend about his lengthy stay in hospital after a horrendous leg break will agree with his overriding verdict: those who work in the NHS are hugely talented and dedicated in most cases, and work under the sort of pressure that would cause others to buckle.

Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but all they do is cast the vast majority of care provided in hospitals in an even more favourable light.

The pressure is unrelenting, and eventually the system will reach the point where the young boy’s experience becomes routine unless urgent, sweeping action is taken.

Another worrying report published yesterday says social care in Northern Ireland is collapsing in slow motion.

It highlights how poor pay, increasing demands and failure to recognise the expertise of care staff undermines the workforce, leading to high turnover.

Social care is seen as the key to easing pressure on hospitals, allowing people to return home quicker and freeing up beds. But it simply does not work as demand is outstripping provision in spite of trusts spending £900m a year  on adult social care.

The report’s authors make 16 recommendations to transform social care — but the number of reports produced on various aspects of the health service now form a very high stack and have yet to be implemented.

In recent weeks the issue of Brexit has dominated the news agendas locally and nationally.

It is undoubtedly a major issue, but the public has spoken and the UK is now merely negotiating how it best can leave the EU.

It should be remembered that all the discussions on how to create the much heralded frictionless border between both parts of this island went ahead and were resolved with no functioning administration at Stormont.

The DUP was able to make its points only because of a partnership with the Government, but ultimately it is difficult to see how politicians here will determine the final outcome of Brexit in any meaningful way.

What they could do, if so minded, is make an enormous difference to our health service. There is a transformation plan in place which all sides agree is the way forward but it needs ministerial decisions.

The Assembly and Executive have been in abeyance for a year. That is disgraceful and a denial of the will of the electorate who voted for politicians to do their job for their generous salaries.

The parties may complain of each other not showing proper respect, but where is the respect for people in urgent need of health care who are being denied it?

Our civil servants are working valiantly to plug the gap — but our politicians should bury their petty pride and get back to Stormont.

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