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Stormont's return won't help NHS, it has already presided over its decline to the point of collapse

letter of the day: the health service

I watched, with mounting frustration, Edwin Poots MLA and Pat Sheehan MLA on BBC's The View "debating" the crisis in our health service by, instead, pursuing a blame-game for the failure to provide functioning government in nearly 10 months in Northern Ireland. The central premise of host Mark Carruthers's questioning was that the crisis in health was, to a large extent, due to the lack of a minister to take big decisions.

What simplistic nonsense. The case for change in our health service structures and service delivery goes back at least as far as the late-1990s and former permanent secretary Maurice Hayes's review of our acute hospitals.

Since that time, we have rehearsed the same arguments for healthcare reform under the guise of a basket of reviews, all saying broadly the same thing: radical reform of our health service structures and the model of delivery must take place if we are to approach anything like the political benchmark of "world-class" services.

The reality is that no political party here has the backbone to make changes which might reflect badly on their party vote. That is either unprincipled selfishness, or political cowardice.

Of all of the health reports in the last 18 years, that of the former chief executive of the NHS, Sir Liam Donaldson, published in 2014, was the most trenchant. In around 45 pages, he excoriated our current health system (in the politest of terms) as not fit for purpose.

He set out a series of recommendations that any Executive serious about health reform would have embraced.

Far from being humbled by their collective failure, what was the Executive's response? Another review; another sticking-plaster to further postpone major surgery.

In the past 10 years of devolution, our dysfunctional Assembly and Executive have presided over the decline of our health services to the point of collapse.


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