Leading article

Unacceptable waiting lists need urgent attention

With the collapse of the Stormont executive and the likelihood of protracted negotiations following the election in March, we are heading for a period of political limbo, the length of which is impossible to predict.

While the politicians try to resolve their differences - a prospect that seems fairly remote right now - the public will be focused on the delivery of key services in the absence of a budget.

At the foremost of many people's minds will be the health service which continues to experience extreme pressures.

We had hoped to see the roll out of reforms in response to last year's landmark health report by Professor Rafael Bengoa, but that process has now been plunged into uncertainty by the political crisis.

This week health minister Michelle O'Neill unveiled a plan to spend £31 million to tackle the dreadful waiting lists in Northern Ireland.

There is no doubt this is a massive problem with an estimated 40,000 patients waiting more than 52 weeks for a first outpatient appointment. Around 8,000 people are waiting over a year for day care inpatient treatment.

It is completely unacceptable that so many people are having to wait so long just for a first appointment.

The minister said this money would clear the backlog of patients waiting more than a year by March 2018 and has contacted party leaders seeking agreement to release the funding.

The Sinn Féin leader has faced accusations of electioneering and we can understand why that charge would be levelled.

It is also not entirely clear why this plan was not brought forward before the suspension of the assembly.

But the plan is on the table now and while some parties will express scepticism, the reality is it is difficult to deny that money is urgently needed to tackle an acute and growing crisis.

However, this is just one pressing decision and there will be many more needing to be addressed in the weeks and months ahead.

Leading article

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