OPINION: ‘1,000 day impasse is damaging our health’ - Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan

Foyle SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan.
Foyle SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan.

In consideration of our health service, the terms ‘crisis and breaking-point’ have become somewhat regulars in our daily lexicon.

Most have collectively resigned themselves to the ‘new normal’, some ignore the gravity of the situation whilst others blast warning cries as scaremongering and populist.

I would argue that our health service is not at breaking point - it is broken.

Admittedly, systemic problems and a dire lack of workforce planning existed long before political breakdown.

Yet as we approach 1,000 days of deadlock, it cannot be denied that the imminent collapse of our health system has been severely compounded by a lack of decision-making.

Healthcare is a basic human right, a fundamental principle of any society.

The inability to adequately provide that right is a worrying but fitting reflection of our current political climate; in a state of perpetual flux and disarray where crucially, our political leaders are failing to see the bigger picture.

You don’t need to be clairvoyant to see what lies ahead- the Royal College of Nurses have predicted a worsening situation unless the 3,000 nurse shortfall is urgently addressed.

Yet the potential and long-championed solution of a medical school at Magee has been put at risk in the absence of a health minister.

Three health trusts declared a crisis this weekend, last week the Western Trust asked NI Ambulance Service not to bring non-urgent cases to an already swamped Altnagelvin A&E and last month ambulances were drafted in from the Republic to cover our deficit. This is not an image of healthcare in peace-time.

The health service must not be offered as a sacrificial lamb in the pursuit of so-called progress- purported red-lines need to be redrawn.

A thousand days and what has been achieved? How is 1,000 days of stagnation justifiable? Tell me how is it explained to the child whose life-changing surgery has been delayed another year?

To the mother lying awake at night worrying about her cancer progression as she waits longer and longer for access to chemotherapy?

To the pensioner sitting all night in a cold hospital corridor before a bed can be secured?

The physical and mental well-being of our health staff has been put at stake as they undertake the impossible task of meeting increased demand under diminishing resources.

Their resilience and commitment in returning to work day after day despite unimaginable challenges, is highly admirable to say the least.

Safeguarding our health system supersedes party politics.

We need to adopt a new narrative- a narrative of cooperation, of respectful disagreement with a willingness to compromise. Granted politics is not always black and white but doing your job, that should be non-negotiable.

Our leaders can no longer whistle in the darkness, hoping the public will become oblivious to the obvious. Ignoring the massive oversights within our health service has only exacerbated them.

The damage has been done, now is the time to come together and focus on damage limitation. We must not capitulate to chaos.