Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Health crisis significant focus of all Northern Ireland parties' manifestos

'There are almost 110,000 outpatients waiting longer than a year, and the target is that no one should wait longer than 52 weeks, the UUP notes' (stock photo)
'There are almost 110,000 outpatients waiting longer than a year, and the target is that no one should wait longer than 52 weeks, the UUP notes' (stock photo)
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The Ulster Unionists, SDLP and DUP all devote significant space in their election manifestos to our NHS crisis.

The UUP describes it as an unprecedented and deteriorating situation. "Almost every waiting time statistic is frightening," says the party. With a population of only 1.8m, Northern Ireland has over 300,000 people waiting for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment.

There are almost 110,000 outpatients waiting longer than a year, and the target is that no one should wait longer than 52 weeks, the UUP notes.

Nearly 40,000 people are waiting longer than six months for a diagnostic test, including MRIs and CT scans. Just half of patients urgently referred with suspected cancer begin treatment within 62 days when the target is 95%.

The UUP is demanding that a healthcare emergency is declared here and that the next government intervenes and announces it is initiating special measures.

The party wants health functions to be formally transferred back to London and a Westminster MP appointed as our Health Minister. It's also asking for extra funding and investment to increase the number of acute hospital beds in particular.

The UUP also wants an independent mental health champion appointed to review, monitor and improve services across Northern Ireland.

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The SDLP pledges to fight any attempt to privatise the NHS. It wants to "take the politics out of health" and lead an "honest conversation" on the issue.

The party is calling for enhanced services for those with addiction problems. It supports an "all-island approach" to healthcare, with greater cross-border services.

The DUP understandably isn't shy about talking up how its confidence-and-supply money has helped the NHS.

The party's ambition is for Northern Ireland to be "not lagging but leading" on healthcare in the UK. It calls for a move from "managing illness to supporting people to stay well" and resources to be shifted to the community.

The DUP can't be accused of not doing the detail on its health policies, which far surpasses its rivals.

The Alliance Party supports "implementing the Bengoa reforms to transform our health service, freeing up resources to pay health sector staff fairly". Health is a devolved matter and Alliance states that its manifesto focuses specifically "on those matters over which Westminster has direct control or influence".

Sinn Fein has been criticised for not paying enough attention to our NHS crisis. Its manifesto simply pledges that a new Assembly must deliver "safe staffing levels for health care workers".

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