Children's health should be at heart of Stormont agenda as 'red flag' cancer waiting times a stain on devolution
CONCERNS about health outcomes for children in Northern Ireland have been highlighted throughout the pandemic, particularly those suffering from mental health problems.
Spiralling waiting lists for autism assessments - more than 5,000 young patients are currently caught up in a backlog - have been debated in the Assembly while parents have also disclosed how a lack of specialist surgery for the spinal condition scoliosis forced to them to take their children abroad for operations.
However, the emergence of data on 24 'red flag' child cases with suspected or confirmed cancer waiting more than 12 months for an appointment with a consultant by April 2021 is one of the most shocking indictments of the north's health service - and devolution.
Politicians yesterday hit out at the delays which were revealed in a review by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Koulla Yiasouma.
But a separate damning report by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health released last year warned the north's child health outcomes are "often worse than elsewhere in the UK and in Western Europe".
The commissioner's office's figures - they discovered that overall more than 17,000 children and teenagers faced delays of over a year to see a consultant for the first time - were provided by the Health and Social Care Board.
The Department of Health yesterday confirmed that the 24 red flag cases have been "downgraded or removed" since April and there are currently "no red flag children" on waiting lists for urgent appointments with a cancer specialist.
Regardless of the current situation, the fact that children with potentially life-threatening conditions remained on waiting lists during a pandemic year is nothing short of a disgrace.
Appearing at the dispatch box for MLA questions yesterday, health minister Robin Swann conceded they are "failing most of society" based on the waiting lists crisis.
As the Stormont executive navigates its way out of Covid restrictions and attempts to rebuild a health service battling unprecedented pressures, the onus must be on ensuring vulnerable children are given priority in any devolved administration.
Political spats and bitter wrangling witnessed in the Assembly Chamber over the past year must be put to one side, with Stormont decision makers' instead putting children and their health at the centre of any agenda.