Pandemic ‘lays bare fragility of health system’
SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan has lamented the loss of the EU Directive on cross border healthcare as a result of Brexit which he said has placed even greater pressures on waiting lists for elective surgeries, such as hip and knee replacements.
While welcoming the publication of Minister Swann’s Trust Rebuilding Plans for Health and Social Care and its focus on elective surgery, Mr Durkan said cross-border healthcare options must be explored.
The Foyle MLA commented: “The pandemic has laid bare the fragilities of our health system, particularly staffing capacity which I am glad Minister Swann has acknowledged in his Trust Rebuilding Plans. However what concerns me most is the entrenchment of a two-tier health care system whereby those who can afford to go private will do so and those who can’t, will languish on waiting lists while their physical and mental health deteriorates. Indeed, many will spiral into debt just to access treatment.
“In recent weeks, I have been contacted by multiple constituents already waiting years for elective surgery who have basically been told by consultants that as a consequence of the pandemic, they are contending with a four-year waiting list but if they’re willing to pay they can be seen within the month. Steps need to be taken to eradicate this perverse ‘dangling carrot’ practice- accessing appropriate, timely healthcare is a basic right that should be afforded to all and not just to those who can afford it.”
He added: “Waiting lists were buckling under pressure long before Covid, further disruption and backlogs are unavoidable. Now with the removal of the EU Directive is incumbent upon the Health Minister to explore every possible alternative. It is regrettable that the health service needed to rely on other EU countries health systems to address Orthopaedic backlogs in the first place, nevertheless cross border cooperation is critical at the current juncture. North/ South collaboration with regard to healthcare isn’t about asking the South to take on our cases on top of their own as Minister Swann has portrayed in previous responses within the Assembly this week, but rather it’s about maximising resources. A health service, free at the point of delivery must be protected at all costs.”
Health Minister Robin Swann this week detailed his ambitions for the re-building of Northern Ireland’s health service, while stressing the need for sustained investment to deliver the plans.
In a keynote statement to the Assembly, he said: “I am absolutely determined to put this right. But as I will argue today, I cannot do this alone. I need the support of this House and my Executive colleagues if we are to address our absolutely dire waiting lists.”
Mr Swann informed MLAs that detailed plans are being finalised on both waiting times and cancer care, with a review of urgent and emergency care.
He said the pandemic has had a “significant impact” on “our already appalling waiting lists”. It had also “highlighted serious long established fragilities in our health and social care system, especially in terms of staffing capacity,” he said.