Belfast Telegraph

Power-sharing deal vital for our health

Editor's Viewpoint

Warnings about the overuse of antibiotics are not new but Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride has couched the latest in terms that we can all understand - and the forecast is alarming.

Routine everyday operations including hip replacements or Caesarean sections may not be viable in the long term if growing resistance to antibiotics continues to develop.

Even minor injuries or infectious diseases such as pneumonia could prove fatal for the same reason.

This is not a problem confined to Northern Ireland but it is one which we should be acutely aware of given that we take 30% more antibiotics annually - 1.9m prescriptions or one for every person in the province - than in England.

There are common sense ways to combat this overuse. Simply being more careful about personal hygiene and handwashing can reduce the spread of infection and patients should stop asking for antibiotics for illnesses like the flu as they have no effect on viruses.

Dealing with this problem should be part of an overall health strategy for the province but the Royal College of Surgeons warned yesterday that political instability is undermining efforts to reduce the unacceptably long waiting times experienced by thousands of people trying to see a consultant or get treatment.

The number of people waiting more than a year is many times that in England - a staggering statistic and a shameful one.

As the RCS points out, there are remedies.

One is the £1bn given to Northern Ireland as a result of the DUP pact with the Tory government. A large part of that money is earmarked to ease the strains in the health service but it cannot be spent because there is no Executive in place.

Another remedy is the reorganisation recommended by the Bengoa report now gathering dust at Stormont even though it was said that the NHS here was in the last chance saloon.

The RCS, which cannot be accused of having a political axe to grind, says that if the NHS in Northern Ireland is to be saved from catastrophe then local politicians must return to the Executive and Assembly and begin to make the decisions required.

This is a grim warning which must be heeded - but a return to devolution still seems unlikely, although not impossible.

Belfast Telegraph

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