Editor's Viewpoint: The very real suffering of those left languishing on waiting lists must refocus efforts on getting Stormont back to work
Once again health issues are making the headlines. The Belfast Trust has continued the bad news story by announcing it is cancelling outpatients and surgery procedures due to ongoing strike action.
It is estimated that around 10,000 people will be affected, and it has been revealed that 1,000 elective procedures have been cancelled.
These figures are bad enough, but behind every statistic there is a person, and his or her family and friends will feel let down yet again by the NHS. It is hard enough to get an operation or an appointment these days, so it must be particularly disappointing to have one cancelled.
Also frustrating is the fact there have been stark warnings over the past few weeks about the possibility of these cancellations.
Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health, was among the first to sound the alarm bells, and he has been followed by other key figures, including representatives from the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, and this week by the Royal College of Surgeons. For quite some time these people and others have been warning about an impending crisis, which is now upon us. Yesterday we reported the stories of five people in Northern Ireland who face a wait of many years for surgery.
We could have reported the graphic stories of thousands of others. The crisis is so widespread that probably everyone knows of someone who is affected. The suffering spreads out like waves into the community. There is the pain and anxiety of the individuals involved, but there is also a wider impact: perhaps the need to change personal and family plans, including circumstances where the patient is unable to work and has to be cared for by others.
When a small place like Northern Ireland has more of the worst features of the NHS compared to anywhere else in the UK, it is time for everyone here to pay attention and to do something.
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The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith has announced that new talks will take place in the run-up to Christmas to try to restore the Executive before the disgraceful three-year anniversary of its collapse.
We all hope that the current health crisis will help to concentrate the minds of politicians who have been failing in their job. As the alarming situation in our NHS makes clear, we need action and no more political blether.