The DUP has accused Sinn Fein of putting “their party political demands as a higher priority than growing waiting lists” amid the ongoing crisis in the health system.
Those were the words of DUP MLA Peter Weir, who accused Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill, a former health minister, of having “walked away from her desk and away from the route map to deliver” reform of the health service here.
Sinn Fein MLA John O’Dowd, however, accused the DUP of having given “the Tory government a blank cheque for its austerity policies and vicious cuts to frontline services”.
The dispute between Northern Ireland’s two largest parties comes after the Health and Social Care Board moved to apologise to “patients and their families” on Wednesday evening.
It has emerged that 928 patients were forced to wait more than 12 hours at emergency departments across Northern Ireland over Christmas.
Mr O’Dowd said: “The DUP brought about the collapse of the political institutions by its mishandling of the RHI scandal, its association with a series of other financial scandals, its refusal to implement previous agreements and its blockade on rights.
“The DUP have also piled the pressure on to our hard-pressed public services by giving the Tory government a blank cheque for its austerity policies and vicious cuts to frontline services.”
The Upper Bann MLA added: “If the DUP are serious about tackling the problems facing the health service they would end their support for Tory cuts and focus on restoring the political institutions on the principles of the Good Friday Agreement.”
A spokeswoman for the Health and Social Care Board yesterday outlined the reasons for the long waits experienced by patients.
“As a result of increased demand on top of an already very busy system, the level of complex and serious conditions, particularly amongst the growing frail and elderly population, the prevalence of flu and other respiratory conditions at this time of year, and the challenges of helping patients to return home after a hospital stay, some patients have had to wait more than 12 hours to be admitted to hospital.”
She added: “We fully understand the upset and inconvenience this causes to patients and their families and apologise to them for it.”
Meanwhile, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has apologised to patients whose operations could be cancelled amid pressure on the NHS in England.