Health Minister Michelle O’Neill has been accused of attempting to “massage whatever good news story she can” by the UUP, following her announcement of a new plan to tackle waiting lists.
The Alliance Party, meanwhile, have questioned where the funding for the plan will come from.
Alliance Health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw questioned where the funding for the Health Minister’s plan to tackle waiting lists will come from, due to the lack of an Executive Budget.
She said: “It is welcome there now appears to be a strategy in place, especially if it recognises the need to not keep taking the same approach and expecting different results,” said Ms Bradshaw.
“However, it is concerning the lack of a Budget means the allocation of funding which is needed to achieve what the plan sets out to do remains unclear – a fact admitted by the Minister. We have heard similar claims before the last election about money being made available to tackle problems in the health sector, finances which did not subsequently appear.
“This is the real result of the DUP and Sinn Fein’s arrogance and hubris towards the institutions. Without a return to power-sharing and functioning Executive, this election will come at a great cost to those suffering the most.”
Ulster Unionist Health Spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson accused the Sinn Fein Health Minister of engaging in pre-election stunts.
Jo-Anne Dobson, an election candidate in Upper Bann said: “Michelle O’Neill is right to say that when she took up office last May lengthy waiting times were a major problem. Yet under her watch those delays have only worsened. She can state as often as she likes that she is concerned about them, but the unavoidable reality is that for the last 8 months she has failed to do anything about them.
“Even the much anticipated Bengoa Reforms in October were followed up with a jaded response from the Department – bereft of vision, of resources and most importantly of detailed actions.
“It was bewildering that the first target in response to Bengoa was that by January 2017 the Executive would develop a plan to tackle the waiting lists crisis. The problem has been getting worse for the last two years. Patients shouldn’t have had to wait one more day for a plan never mind another three months for what in the end appears to be little more than a pre-election stunt.
“Whilst I welcome this latest funding allocation of £31m, it really does need to be set in context. In 2016/17 there was a £30m funding allocation to tackle waiting lists, and £40m in 2015/16, yet the crisis engulfing our hospitals only continued to deepen further and further. What realistic impact therefore will an extra £31m this year make?
“The Minister is right to concentrate her efforts on those patients that have been waiting longest, but it is simply shocking that the number of outpatients alone waiting over 52 week increased from 20,000 to 40,000 in the space of 12 months. The Minister needs to be more upfront with the public when she says by March 2018, no-one should wait more than 52 weeks for a first outpatient appointment – it’s more than twice as long as the target that existed less than a year ago.
“The DUP, in one of their final acts of holding the Health portfolio, dramatically increased the maximum time most patients could wait from 18 weeks to 52. It was one of the most clandestine, unethical and appalling decisions that they took in a scandal hit five years at the helm of the local health service. Michelle O’Neill is now deliberating using these much weaker targets to try to massage whatever good news story she can attempt to generate from an otherwise unimpressive and retrograde time spent as Health Minister.”