Money for human rights inquiry ‘should be spent on hospitals’

Edwin Poots
Edwin Poots

The money being spent on an unprecedented human rights inquiry into emergency healthcare in Northern Ireland would be better spent on the NHS itself, a campaign group has said.

Yesterday the Health Minister, Edwin Poots, was the first witness as public hearings of the Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into emergency healthcare got under way in Belfast.

Appearing at the first of 12 public hearings to be held over the next two months, Mr Poots was questioned by a panel of three people, including the commission’s new chief commissioner, Les Allamby and former UN health rapporteur Professor Paul Hunt.

The third member of the panel is Marion Reynolds, was appointed as a Human Rights Commissioner after a long career in family and child care services.

But a group which campaigns against public sector waste said that the entire exercise was a waste of time and money.

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “The amount of money spent on this politically-correct inquiry could be better spent on the NHS itself.

“The failings in the service are well-known and the focus should be on improving services for taxpayers, not wasting money on a navel-gazing exercise one suspects is largely undertaken to justify the existence of the commission itself.

“The whole thing should be scrapped.”

The commission has said that the inquiry has the power to compel witnesses and demand evidence — as would be the case if a Parliamentary committee was to hold an inquiry.

Mr Allamby said: “It is about empowerment in a situation where people are in fact in a position of vulnerability and don’t generally feel empowered.

“This is new territory for human rights institutions in that it is the first inquiry of its kind into accident and emergency services anywhere in the world. We don’t have a template to operate from, we really are pioneering.”

Yesterday Mr Poots told the inquiry that a reorganisation of the health service in Northern Ireland is needed to address problems.

The minister highlighted problems with x-rays and scans, undignified treatment of elderly patients at emergency departments, bed blocking and issues surrounding effective admissions.

The DUP minister said too many people were still attending emergency departments who did not need to and added others were left waiting while specialist doctors decided who could treat them.

He told the hearing: “The problem with our emergency departments is we need the social care element of it right to ensure people are discharged in a timely fashion so the availability of beds throughout the hospital system will be much greater.”

‘Human right to health’

The inquiry is formulated around what the Human Rights Commission says is the UK’s international obligation to provide a “right to health”.

In an explanatory paper setting out the rationale for the inquiry, the commission said: “The right to health is set out in various international human rights instruments.

“The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and its associated jurisprudence provides the most detailed articulation. “ICESCR, Article 12 requires States Parties to recognise the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

“General Comment No. 14 operationalises the right to health providing greater detail on its meaning.”

But the explanation added: “The right to health is not a right to be healthy.”

See Morning View, page 52