A six-year-old who inspired a change in the organ donation laws in Northern Ireland has cut cake for healthcare workers at Stormont celebrating the 75th anniversary of the health service. The father of Daithi Mac Gabhann has also thanked the health service for saving his son’s life. Events are taking place across Northern Ireland this week to mark the 75th anniversary of the health service.
The Northern Ireland Confederation for Health and Social Care (HSC) hosted a celebration event in Parliament Buildings, Stormont on Wednesday. Daithi, who has been on the waiting list for a heart transplant since 2018, was the guest of honour at the event. The Organ and Tissue Donation (Deemed Consent) legislation, known as Daithi’s law, changed the way consent is granted for organ donation. Adults are now deemed to have given consent as a potential organ donor after their death unless they choose to opt out or are in an excluded group, with the goal of increasing the number of organs available for donation. Speaking at Stormont at the anniversary event, Daithi’s father Mairtin spoke of the impact the health service has had on his family’s life. “We’re absolutely privileged today to be at the 75th year celebration of the health service, the health service that means so much to our family,” he said. “The health service has saved our Daithi’s life time and time again over the past six years and we’re hoping that it will again save his life through the gift of a heart transplant as well. “We wouldn’t be here today without the health service and the NHS and the HSC and to be asked to come here today for Daithi to cut the cake as the guest of honour, it’s a privilege, we’re so honoured to be here. “And we hope that the health service will not only continue over the next 75 years but it will thrive and that it will get the investment it needs and deserves so that those people working day in day out to make sure that we get the help that we need are helped themselves.” The devolved government in Northern Ireland has not been operational in over a year due to the DUP’s boycott of Stormont in response to post-Brexit trading agreements. The lack of an assembly meant that Daithi’s Law could not be passed at Stormont, prompting Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris to bypass the collapsed institutions to pass legislation at Westminster that allowed the law to come into effect. With decisions surrounding healthcare still being made by permanent secretaries in the absence of elected ministers, Mairtin Mac Gabhann called for politicians to return to support the health service. “Well, back when we were trying to get Daithi’s law through back in January and February, we needed a sitting assembly and executive to deliver that, and it couldn’t deliver that,” he said. “Thankfully, we had the British Government make that exceptional intervention, but it can’t do that for every single thing, so we need a sitting government. “We need an assembly, we need an executive, we need people here making decisions for us and for the health service, and so many other services that are in dire need.”
The event at Stormont was sponsored by Sinn Fein health spokesperson Linda Dillon and DUP health spokesperson Paul Givan. Ms Dillon reiterated her party’s call for the return of the Stormont executive, adding that parties should all be calling on the UK Treasury for more funding for the health service. “We can never thank all of the staff enough but I will say this – clapping for you doesn’t cut it,” she said. “I am very aware as an elected MLA, what is needed; political leadership, political support for fair pay and working conditions, and political consensus around transformation, so that we can ensure better health outcomes for all of our people.” She added: “In the immediate term we need an executive back up and a health minister in place to do our utmost to protect our services, particularly in the face of the current budget. We need to be united in calling on Treasury to properly fund our health service.” Mr Givan said the institutions would be back sooner rather than later, but reiterated that more funding was needed to invest in the health service. “I recognise that we do have a job, and at times when we have had sustained periods of devolution we have seen progress in the health service and different parties have held that portfolio (of health minister) at different times and we’ve been able to come together as a political class and support the health service. And we need to do that again,” he said. “And so as we celebrate 75 years I think today should be a day where we have a rebirth of the health service. And I commit to you to be able to play my part in providing that support. “I’m confident we’ll get the institutions back sooner, certainly rather than later.” He added: “The restoration of Stormont is important, that will help, but without the right financial structures in place, we won’t be able to have that sustained investment that the health service needs.” Parliament Buildings at Stormont and Belfast City Hall are set to be lit up blue on Wednesday night to mark the 75th year of the National Health Service and its sister organisation in Northern Ireland. The George Cross Medal, which was presented to the HSC last summer by the Queen, will be on display. The Republic of Ireland’s president Michael D Higgins hailed the organisation earlier this week during an address to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions conference in Kilkenny, as “one of the great achievements of humanity”.
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