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Waiting times are unacceptable

The mood at Stormont on Thursday as the secretary of state began a round of exploratory talks aimed at restoring devolution was far from encouraging.

There was acrimony with DUP leader Arlene Foster accusing Sinn Féin of leaking confidential papers following the breakdown of talks in February leading to the 'shattering of trust' in the unionist community.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said the DUP is more interested in maintaining its confidence and supply arrangement with the Tory government than in working towards bringing back power-sharing in the north.

From a low base, we can only hope that the atmosphere improves but it is not an auspicious start and the reality is that no one expects an executive to be back any time soon, which is a problem.

There is no doubt the prolonged impasse is far from ideal from a range of perspectives.

With Brexit looming and crucial decisions being made on future arrangements that will have long term repercussions for people in Northern Ireland, the devolved institutions are playing no part in that process.

The withdrawal from the EU and the border question are of enormous significance but there are other issues that need to be addressed, including economic strategy and the financial squeeze on public services.

This week we heard alarming figures which painted a bleak picture in terms of our health service.

Crisis is a much overused word and we hear it regularly in relation to accident and emergency departments but the fact is we are facing a dire situation which appears to be getting worse.

In March last year, 585 people waited more than 12 hours to be treated, which was bad enough.

However, one year on and the situation is dramatically worse with 3,169 waiting more than 12 hours last month, which is quite shocking.

The Health and Social Care Board has apologised for the long waiting times and acknowledges that it is not an acceptable position.

But what is being done to improve matters? And who is accountable to the public for this lamentable state of affairs?

There is no health minister to explain what is going wrong or tell us what is being done to address fundamental problems.

We rely on our front line nurses and doctors to deliver a first class service yet we are told in a survey that we don't have enough staff to cope and many A&E consultants have felt stressed because of an inability to deliver high-quality care.

The health service needs reform and reorganisation but there is no minister in place to drive forward all-important change.

Political stalemate does have consequences. We need politicians who are committed to deliver changes that will benefit us all.

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