Moonlighting nurses a concern
Health issues are once again making the headlines, with patients being warned to stay away from hospital accident and emergency departments unless their cases are urgent or life-threatening.
We also reveal in today's paper that local nurses are being forced to take up extra weekend work outside Northern Ireland to make ends meet.
However, the Belfast Health Trust has claimed - surprisingly - that although some staff are working shifts elsewhere this is not putting a strain on our already stretched health service.
The problem is the lack of competitive pay rates for nurses here. The director of the Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland, Janice Smyth, has underlined that local nurses would not have to take on extra outside work if they were paid properly.
Some nurses travel to England on Friday night and work Saturday and Sunday before returning to start their normal jobs on Monday.
One Sunday newspaper has revealed that each nurse is paid up to £600 for the double-shift. In many cases nurses can earn up to three times their normal rates of pay.
While the extra money is welcome, this weekend work adds to the pressures of the job and this cannot he helpful when dealing with patients here, many of whom have already faced lengthy delays in treatment.
All of this underlines that something is badly wrong with our health service. We in Northern Ireland really cannot afford to lose the services of nurses at weekends, while in England they are having to pay over the odds for nursing care which people over there also desperately need.
Health Minister Simon Hamilton must be fully aware of these developments. If not, he needs to be briefed as quickly as possible so that he can do something about this worrying situation.
Perhaps it is time to think the unthinkable, and to phase out free prescriptions depending on the individual's ability to pay. For example, should there be a minimum charge for those who can afford it?
Certainly, we need a clear, pragmatic approach so that the public is given the treatment it funds through taxes. Meanwhile, we all remain indebted to the nurses and other health professionals who do the best they can in trying circumstances.