Opinon: Health dispute needs to be resolved as a matter of urgency
As the health service dispute escalates and the sense of crisis deepens, there is little sign of any movement towards resolving the ongoing row over pay and staffing levels.
If anything, the mood is hardening with fingers being pointed over the blame for the industrial action and the failure to address long-standing grievances.
Meanwhile, thousands of patients have seen their appointments, day procedures and surgeries cancelled this week, a decision by the authorities that has sparked a furious reaction from the trade unions.
They insist there was no need to issue a large-scale notice of postponement, that many services were functioning and staff were turning up for work.
It is not entirely clear why the Belfast trust decided at short notice on Friday afternoon to announce the cancellation of operations at a number of hospitals, including the Royal Victoria and Belfast City.
This move has undoubtedly caused significant anxiety and uncertainty for a large number of patients and will add to the already appalling delays for those on waiting lists.
Certainly, patients are entitled to ask if the blanket cancellation was completely necessary or if some appointments could have gone ahead, albeit with certain restrictions.
However, the overriding question is more about how this issue is to be resolved.
By any standards, the situation as it stands is very regrettable and the prospect of a number of unions striking on December 18 is hugely worrying.
By any standards, we are in an exceptionally difficult position with health trusts warning of a 'significant risk to patient safety'.
In those circumstances, calls have been made for the secretary of state Julian Smith to intervene.
He is maintaining that health is a devolved matter and while he has reconvened all-party talks for December 16, the reality is that even if Stormont is eventually restored, it could take weeks or even months of negotiations.
The current state of chaos in the health service could be rightly described as an emergency and it is incumbent on those in authority to take the steps necessary to ensure services continue and patients are treated safely and in a timely manner.
It is a great pity that we have reached the point where healthcare staff are on the picket line and operations are cancelled but it needs to be sorted out and soon.