Belfast Telegraph

Ills of deadlock are bad for Northern Ireland's health

Editor's Viewpoint

The Bengoa blueprint for transforming Northern Ireland's health service - streamlining it and changing the way it works - set out 18 time-specific recommendations. It was estimated that it would take 10 years to complete the work but that timetable is being jeopardised by the continued collapse of devolution.

While a report reveals that some preparatory work has been done in laying the groundwork for the required transformation - and credit for that must go to civil servants and health professionals in the absence of politicians - it will quickly grind to a halt without ministerial direction.

Yet the problems continue to pile up. The length of time many patients have to wait to see a consultant in Northern Ireland is the longest in the UK, NHS staff are stressed by increasing demands and demoralised by pay caps and even the GP service is coming under strain.

On top of all that is the requirement for huge investment in the health service to enable the transformation to take place. It will not come cheaply and that is why a functioning administration at Stormont is so necessary and the need is urgent.

There is a significant sum of money available, as part of the £1bn windfall gained by the DUP for propping up the government at Westminster has been earmarked for health. Yet it will only be released when either the Executive or direct rule is established.

Ministers will also have to work out their priorities in any new administration and health obviously will expect to come top of the in-tray of whoever is in power.

The finger of blame for the stalemate at Stormont is being pointed at Sinn Fein over its redline demand for a stand-alone Irish Language Act. It does not help that even the other parties - never mind the public - are not privy to the discussions between Sinn Fein and the DUP, and that the only public pronouncements are attempts to blame each other for the stasis.

What is evident is that the public is becoming disillusioned with the political process at Stormont and increasingly feels that the problems in the health service trump every other issue. It is obvious that the governance of the province is chaotic at present.

Perhaps if the electorate could vote on priorities rather than on the usual tribal headcount we might have a prescription which could cure the ills of the health service.

Belfast Telegraph

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