Health Minister needs to tackle abusers in the service

Sandra Chapman
Sandra Chapman

Sinn Fein Health Minister Michelle O’Neill has pledged to transform our health service.

I’m not holding my breath, especially as she witters on about a “12-month timeline for a 10-year plan with budgets at worst for one year and at best for three or four” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

Hospital bed

Hospital bed

The trouble I have with such promises is that they are often forgotten in the political melee which seems to constantly surround our Stormont politicians who appear to have great difficulty agreeing about anything. So, 10 years down the line, my generation will be older and in physical decline and we all know how little the NHS cares about the elderly these days. I doubt if that will change.

I would like to hear in the immediate term how Ms O’Neill is going to tackle the abuse of the A&E service which according to this newspaper this week is having to deal with an average of 23 people a day as a result of self-harming, not to mention the sheer abuse of the service by the drunks and drug users whose sense of entitlement when it comes to health care appears to know no bounds.

And then there are the foreigners abusing the service. We all know the NHS is losing millions every year treating health tourists – latest figures reveal that hospital trusts in the UK have recouped only half the £500m they spent on them.

One infamous example was an African who arrived in the UK near term with triplets. Her family back home had promised to pay the bill. The babies were in intensive care for a month before they could return home. The cost was never recouped as the family back home refused to pay.

More than a decade ago, when I was a health journalist in Belfast, doctors told me this was a problem but trusts were too busy to retrieve the money. I would like to know if health tourists are still abusing our system here and is the problem being looked at? It should be.

Two years ago when I became ill in the South of Ireland where there isn’t an NHS as we know it, it cost me 50 Euro up front to see a doctor plus the cost of the medication. I hadn’t my E111 card with me at the time and couldn’t supply my National Insurance number. Eventually I was able to produce the information and the money was returned.

My experience of the NHS in recent years is that I’ve had to pay for some investigations and treatments myself.

When I struggled for months with excruciating back pain which not even the strong painkiller Tramadol would relieve I could no longer wait for an MRI scan and paid for one myself plus the cost of a consultant to read it.

That showed I had an abrupted disc and nerve damage. Unable to wait for NHS physiotherapy I paid again for private treatment.

Only then did the healing process begin. There are thousands of people out there suffering the same terrible pain being told it will take two or three years for an MRI scan and consultant appointment.

In fact, earlier this month I received a letter from the Outpatient Validation Office reminding me I was still on a an Orthopaedic outpatient waiting list, informing me I hadn’t been overlooked but it was “not possible to offer you a date for your appointment.” That appointment was applied for three years ago at least.

So it looks as though I’ll be paying again for the MRI scan I need. Undoubtedly the system is broken.

Realistically we cannot expect our NHS to pay for all our health needs so Ms O’Neill’s pledge can be nothing more than wishful thinking. She could make a start though by dealing with the abusers of the system, local or foreign.