Mayday calls to Stormont as size and number of cracks in health service exposed

Cracks in our struggling health service are never really healed, merely patched, and come winter time, the size and number of those cracks is exposed.

However, this year, it would be difficult to find someone working on the front-line who would not say that this winter is worse than ever.

Staff say they are exhausted.

It is thought that as many as eight people passed away over Christmas after struggling to access the care they needed.

Hundreds of patients are waiting over twelve hours in Emergency Departments at any given time, according to Department of Health stats.

They are rammed into the departments on trolleys and chairs, while ambulances wait outside.

There have been appeals for anyone able to vacate their beds in hospitals to do so, but as we heard from the daughter of a 75-year-old woman trying to go home, it is not always that simple.

Marie Curie, an end of life care charity, say they try to bolster trusts, but they too are feeling the pressure and are struggling to serve all those in need.

These problems are not new to Northern Ireland. The cracks did not start to appear after the DUP triggered the latest Stormont collapse over the NI Protocol, and the cracks are also just as visible in other UK regions where there are functioning governments. 

There are changes that could, should and would be made here though to intervene, if we had a health minister - according to several of this week’s View From Stormont contributors.

“We have a health service in need of critical care, and the way to do that is by having all hands on deck - and that includes our political leaders,” said Professor Mark Taylor from the Royal College of Surgeons.

“The decisions that are needed include finance, include a workforce plan, and include making some really difficult but needed decisions, and that is right from preventative medicine, right from ‘what does the health service provide and what should it provide’, and also changes that allow us to have a system that when you’re ill, you get the very best of care regardless of where you live in Northern Ireland.”

Professor Deirdre Heenan says Bengoa and seven major reports into health and social care in the last two decades have told us all we need to know, and it is now time to action the suggestions contained therein.

“We know what we need to do, we just don’t seem able to do it,” she said.

“Perhaps it is time we looked at the whole system of administration of health and social care, and decided that we might be better with a model like NHS England, where politicians are at arms length and there is an accountable body and a leader who is there to answer questions and to communicate with the public.

Professor Heenan, of the Ulster University, says transparency and accountability are key.

“We need political leaders to decide what the long term and short term interventions will be and instead what we are getting is a wall of silence.”

One politician is feeling the health service strain first hand.

Danny Donnelly is a registered nurse and is taking on bank shifts around his job as an MLA for mid and east Antrim.

He also believes that although the return of power-sharing will not be a “magic wand”, but would be a good starting point.

“Certainly over the last few weeks, I have seen the intense pressures.

“I am talking to colleagues who are feeling embattled. At the minute it is very hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

I asked him what he believes Stormont would do, if its’ institutions were functioning.

“Having a Health Minister would be a good point. Having a Health Committee would be another good point.

“There’s no magic wand, we can’t just magic up the health service functioning as of tomorrow, but what we can do is start to address the crisis.

“We can start to look at what can be done, discuss it, put a plan in place and start actioning that plan.

“At the minute we’re doing nothing, so having an Executive, having a health minister would be doing something and certainly that’s a lot better than doing nothing.”

The DUP declined an invitation to be interviewed for this piece, but a statement from leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson about protocol negotiations was issued today.

It read: “I am committed to the restoration of Stormont, but such a restoration can only be durable if it is built on solid foundations which are supported by unionists and nationalists.”

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