Huge row erupts as Sammy Wilson attacks NI health chief over calls for full lockdown

DUP MP for East Antrim, Sammy Wilson, has labelled the chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) in Northern Ireland “irresponsible” for calling for a stricter lockdown and said he wants the Executive to “ignore him”.

Thursday, 5th November 2020, 11:00 am

Mr. Wilson made the comments about Dr. Tom Black in an interview with BBC Radio Ulster which was broadcast on Thursday morning.

Earlier this week, Dr. Black appeared on The Stephen Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster and called on the Northern Ireland Executive to implement a lockdown like the one deployed in England earlier today.

“To hear any professional talk in that way, especially a medical professional, talk in that way, especially when he knows the impact the economic affects a close down will have on peoples’ health and mental health I think was totally irresponsible of the man,” said Sammy Wilson.

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East Antrim MP, Sammy Wilson, (left) and Dr. Tom Black, BMA Chair in Northern Ireland.

“I am sure there are people sitting in Northern Ireland tonight who will be sitting at home wondering if they will have a business at the end of this, how is my livelihood going to be affected, am I going to be forced into destitution?

“Very poor people who work in the hospitality sector and who are not well paid and who are living day-to-day to make ends meet - it’s okay for a well healed doctor to talk about ignore the economic consequences of a close down but it’s another thing for the people who will be the victims of that to have to live with it and I think his views were totally irresponsible.”

The Northern Ireland Executive is due to lift the current ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown on November 13 but Dr. Tom Black, who represents hundreds of doctors in Northern Ireland, said he hoped the Executive would “ignore” the doctor’s advice.

“I hope that they ignore him - I hope they ignore his one-sided view of what the needs of society are and take a balanced approach - there are ways you can help to stop the spread of this disease.”

He added: “There are also actions the government and the Executive must take to ensure that the economy is not damaged to the extent that people are not left destitute, people are left in their beds at night not knowing how they will make ends meet at the end of that week because that’s a real and cruel way of dealing with people and as a doctor he should have known better.”

Dr. Black responded directly to Mr. Wilson’s comments on The Stephen Nolan Show on Thursday morning.

“I usually find if someone personalises the argument they know they have lost the substance of the argument,” said Dr. Black.

“I have great respect for Sammy because the public in his area have voted him and he has a mandate to express the views of his public but he shouldn’t personalise the argument and say things like he has said.”

Dr. Black added: “The issue and the substance of the argument here is what is the balance between hospitality and lives?

“The reason we (BMA) came out so strongly earlier this week was because we came out a few weeks ago and said it was too little too late with the respect to the restrictions and it was obvious our case wasn’t being heard and the direction of travel was towards lifting the modest restrictions we had.

“We felt the Executive was going to make a mistake this week and we felt it was not listening to the substance of the argument from the health care sector and let’s be frank, we didn’t do this during the summer, between the first and second waves, in fact we didn’t do this during the first wave - this is the first time in nine months we have come out against the policy of the Executive - we are doing this during the second wave when we have lost control, we are not controlling the virus, we have developed a plateau.”

Dr. Black suggested any lifting of the current lockdown would result in “mayhem” in hospitals in Northern Ireland.

“The last thing we need to do is lighten the restrictions and create mayhem and allow our health service to be overwhelmed.

“In response to the substance of Sammy’s argument I am in practice dealing with mental health problems which are double what they were, I am listening to people who trying to work from home, listening to people whose businesses are in trouble and we fully appreciate the best we can do for them is a significant lockdown and end this as fast as possible and not do what we are doing at the moment with modest restrictions which goes on and on and on.

“To give you an example of how the live my life in my community, retail in Derry closed down five weeks ago, it was not asked to close down but it closed down because the community knows that is what needs to be done if we are going to try and lock this down - to some extent I think the population are ahead of the politicians.”