A leading economist and the Department of Health have challenged proposed solutions by a health expert who suggested that “heads would roll” over hospital waiting lists in Northern Ireland.
Nigel Edwards, the chief executive of the Nuffield Trust health body, was speaking about the fact that some patients here are waiting up to 18 months for hospital appointments.
He said the figures compare “very badly” with England.
“Heads would probably roll in some cases for this level of waiting in some of England’s hospitals,” he told the BBC.
The main solution is to clear the queues, he argued, which is normally done by paying existing consultants to work Saturdays and Sundays – and by bringing in extra staff, sometimes from the private sector.
Vital decisions about reducing hospitals had been avoided for almost 30 years, he added.
“The people who lead the system need to step up and take some bold decisions, both to clear the backlog and to deal with some of the structural issues and the shape of Northern Ireland’s healthcare system.
“And there are some big decisions that really need to be taken, decisions that have been ducked for nearly three decades.”
However, economist John Simpson said experts were divided on whether hospitals needed to close.
“The Chief Medical Office of Great Britain Sir Liam Donaldson published a report two years ago and said we are not improving the efficiency of the NHS in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“He did not say we should close hospitals - but he did say that they should become more efficient by specialising instead of each hospital trying to do everything.”
There has been no significant efficiency drive in the NHS here, he said.
The NHS “probably does need extra money each year” and “could do with a couple of hundred million,” he added, but there is no room in the Stormont budget.
A Department of Health spokeswoman agreed that finances were critical to the current situation.
“The finances available present significant challenges,” she said, “and work is ongoing with the Trusts, HSC Board and other arms length bodies to clarify the implications and develop balanced financial plans for 2015/16. Maintaining the safety of services for patients and clients will remain a priority.”
The Nuffield Trust is a leading national body that aims to improve health care in the UK.
‘WELFARE REFORM CAN’T FUND NHS’:
The DUP’s former Health Minister Edwin Poots said on Thursday that welfare reform could help resolve the NHS crisis , if it was not being blocked by Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
However economist John Simpson said that the £500m saving from welfare reforms would not come back to Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein insists the welfare deal struck as part of the Stormont House Agreement (which it later dropped support for) had secured benefits for existing and future claimants.
But Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson responded that it was not feasible to guarantee future claims, and said Sinn Fein only adopted this position for electoral purposes.