'˜Humanitarian' call for direct rule over NI health system

As fresh figures reveal how far Northern Ireland's emergency departments are falling short of their waiting targets, a unionist peer has called for Westminster to seize direct control over the Province's health system.

Thursday, 19th July 2018, 7:28 pm
Updated Thursday, 19th July 2018, 8:33 pm

Lord Empey urged the UK government to take over decision-making at Northern Ireland’s Department for Health on “humanitarian grounds”, given the “abhorrent” state of its waiting lists.

His statement today came just as official waiting time figures were published for emergency departments Province-wide, showing the extent to which key targets have been breached.

The figures cover the quarter from the start of April to end of June.

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One of the things the figures record is the number of patients forced to wait over 12 hours at an emergency department before they were either treated and discharged, or admitted.

The target is that zero patients should have to wait that long.

However, across April, May and June this year, 3,919 people were forced to endure such a wait.

By comparison, for the same period in 2016, the figure stood at 1,135.

The News Letter was unable to find any comparable figures for this quarter in 2017.

There is also a target which states that 95% of all people arriving at an emergency department should be either treated and discharged, or admitted, within four hours.

The average success rate for hitting this target across April, May and June this year was just 72.6%.

By comparison, for the same period in 2016, the figure stood at 75%.

Again, there appeared to be no figures available for 2017.

The quarterly figures also showed a rise in the number of people attending emergency departments overall.

For April, May and June this year, 208,342 people turned up at the Province’s emergency departments.

In the same period in 2016, the figure was 199,303.

It is far from the only example of worsening figures in the Province’s health system.

Lord Empey today cited other health statistics, released in May, which showed that as of March 31 this year, 30.9% (83,392) of patients were waiting more than a year for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment.

This was compared with 21% (53,113) on the same day a year earlier – figures he described as “abhorrent”.

He said it is now time for control of the health system to be “brought back to Westminster on humanitarian grounds”, adding that “this can be done, and should be done given the dire health statistics which clearly show that everyday people are now coming to harm”.

A recent High Court ruling over an incinerator in Newtownabbey had left civil servants – who are supposed to be looking after the public sector in the absence of the politicians – feeling “paralysed” and “frightened”, because it had said they did not have the authority to approve it in place of a minister.

He said if MPs amended the 1998 Northern Ireland Act, which effectively enshrined devolution into law, a minister could be in place to oversee Northern Ireland’s healthcare by October.

In addition, a direct rule minister was put in place to look after the health service, Lord Empey said “MPs and peers will be able to question the government on health matters, which can’t happen at the moment”.

Lord Empey had actually originally raised the point about direct rule for the Northern Irish NHS on Wednesday in the House of Lords during a discussion about the Province’s budget.

However, he was disappointed with the result, saying that “there were no new ideas for restoring Stormont and no new initiative was anticipated”.


As well as statistics showing how badly targets are being missed, other bits of data in Thursday’s health figures include which day is the busiest in A&E departments.

Consistently, Mondays top the list (with 2,826 attendances last month), with Saturdays at the bottom (with 1,797 last month).

It also shows the busiest emergency department from the start of April to the end of June this year was the Ulster, with 24,250 attendances, compared with 23,663 for the Royal Victoria (exluding its children’s hospital).

The quietest was the South West Acute with 9,247, followed by Causeway, with 12,238.