Waiting list plea from surgeons divides Stormont parties

A call from surgeons for a Stormont Executive summit on hospital waiting lists has divided political parties - whom it is claimed refused to sign off on the health minister’s financial requests on the matter last month.

Saturday, 28th August 2021, 7:51 pm
Updated Monday, 30th August 2021, 10:04 am
Health Minister Robin Swan presented his plans to deal with waiting lists to Executive parties last month.

On Thursday The Royal College of Surgeons called on the NI Executive to convene an urgent health summit on waiting lists - with almost 350,000 people waiting for a first appointment with a consultant.

On 4 June Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said party leaders had “agreed to a summit” on the issue with then DUP leader Edwin expecting it to take place “within weeks”.

Yesterday the News Letter asked all five Executive parties to explain why the summit promised almost three months ago has apparently not happened.

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DUP spokesman Jonathan Buckley said ministers met on 26 July to discuss the issues - however he did not claim it was a genuine summit. The Executive published a press statement on that date saying it had “received an update” from the Department of Health and “discussed plans”. However it is understood the ministers refused to fund the plans - something not mentioned in the statement.

Yesterday Mr Buckley placed the onus for progress on the Health Minister, saying it is now “essential that the Department of Health brings forward clear and strategic requests for support”.

The UUP - which currently holds the health portfolio - flatly rejected the call for a summit, saying its Health Minister Robin Swann set out “firm and detailed time-bound proposals” in June and that there had already been too many reports and too much talking. The UUP added that the other parties will soon be “tested” on whether they are “actually prepared to see the necessary investment through”.

SDLP Health spokesperson Cara Hunter backed a summit, so long as it is not “another talking shop” but added that Sinn Féin Finance Minister Conor Murphy “needs to stop dithering and commit the funding”. Alliance health Spokesperson Paula Bradshaw was also sceptical about a summit. “In broad terms, the minister knows what is required on waiting lists - implementing Bengoa,” she said, of the 2016 report commissioned by the Executive itself.

Sinn Fein offered no comment.

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