Experts need to act on staggering hospital waiting lists
AT a 'health summit' last week in Belfast, representatives from political parties were asked to sign up to a set of principles aimed at overhauling our crisis-hit NHS.
Drawn up by a highly-respected former Spanish health minister, Professor Rafael Bengoa, the document comes just three months before the Assembly elections.
The Basque-born doctor is heading up a team of trouble-shooters appointed by DUP health minister Simon Hamilton to reform and improve existing services.
Professor Bengoa, who has advised both the World Health Organisation and the US's Obama administration, is the latest in a long line of advisers catapulted into the north to problem-solve.
His intervention directly results from a recommendation in a critical report by a former English chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, who said we had too many hospitals - a view echoed repeatedly by other independent experts for more than a decade.
While there has been cynicism around the timing of the Department of Health-organised summit so close to an election, the input of Professor Bengoa's views must be welcomed and acted on.
However, how he and his team will tackle the current crisis facing our health service will be an interesting watch, as the latest figures on rocketing waiting times in today’s Irish News reveal a system that is failing on a spectacular level.
An 800 per cent increase in the number of people waiting more than a year for their first hospital appointment is difficult even to comprehend.
In England there was a public outcry last month over the 755 people waiting in excess of a year for operations. In Northern Ireland, the comparative figure is almost 7,000 - yet only merits a couple of paragraphs in the monthly minutes of the Health and Social Board, the body charged with managing the health trusts.
What is even more depressing is that many patients in the north are beginning to accept these staggering delays for potentially life-saving medical assessments and treatment.
It can only be hoped that Professor Bengoa and his colleagues are made aware of these figures and put in place measures to begin tackling with urgency.