Editorial: Health in Northern Ireland would have been better run under direct rule

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News Letter editorial on Thursday July 11 2024:

As the period when the DUP kept Stormont down progressed, there was a growing number of BBC reports that implied that this was damaging services in Northern Ireland.

No area of public life better illustrates the wrongness of this assumption than the lamentable way local politicians have handled health.

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Under direct rule, prior to 1998, the Department of Health rightly wanted to reduce the number of acute hospitals in the province to six. This would have meant closing seven hospitals in order to have a smaller number of world class hospitals with better outcomes and lower death tolls. In a well-run society this would have happened a quarter of a century ago and then we would have used some of the money saved to build world-class dual carriageways between the new acute hospitals. Patients would then be transported perhaps a longer distance from their home to the nearest acute hospital in a top quality ambulance where they would get better treatment than in smaller units.

The concept isn’t difficult. In fact, a smart primary school child would grasp it. But it was all to much for MLAs, who have farmed out thinking to various experts, beginning in 2000, under the late Maurice Hayes, then ignored their advice. The last expert to reach the same conclusion about the need for more efficient healthcare was Professor Bengoa. But cowardly politicians across all parties ducked this advice.

Partly spooked by the Save the Mid campaign, their inaction is significantly to blame for NI having such a waiting list problem. Now our politics is so dysfunctional that Prof Bengoa is being recalled to a seminar in NI.

This saga shatters any notion that our governance improves under Stormont. On the contrary, MLAs have shown themselves incapable of competently managing health, which would have been better handled under direct rule.