Analysis: We’re spending more on health in the north but getting worse outcomes

Hospital waiting lists are just the tip of the health service crisis

Eve Howard says that nursing is the most rewarding career
Waiting lists are the tip of the iceberg (Alamy Stock Photo)

We have come to accept that our health service is in crisis, but the reality may be far worse than we believed. Health services across the UK are under pressure, but we are faring much worse.

An analysis of hospital waiting lists across the UK published this week in response to Tuesday’s first general election leaders debate has laid bare this stark reality.

The data is clear, Northern Ireland is facing the worst waiting times in the whole of the UK.

While one in three people in the north wait over two years, less that one per cent face a similar wait in England.

Just last week The Economist said that hospital waiting lists “were just the tip of the province’s healthcare crisis” while it labelled the north a “warning to the rest of Britain”.

According to the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, three times as many people died due to delays in emergency departments in 2022 as did during the worst year of the Troubles.

And recent statistics show that the number of GP surgeries has fallen by 11% in the last decade, while the number of registered patients has increased by 20%.

This is despite health spending in the north being greater per person than in England.

Funding will continue to be an issue and more money will be needed to bring health services back a sustainable baseline. But simply throwing more money at the problem won’t make it go away in the long term.

A clear vision for the future of our health service is needed. But four months into a new Executive there is still no clear plan to improve health service outcomes.

Former health minister Robin Swann voted against the budget, before quitting the post to run in the Westminster election.

His successor, Mike Nesbitt, has remained defiant saying he will not approve “catastrophic cuts”. But a detailed vision or plan for the future of the health service is yet to be revealed.

A sustainable future for the health service will require a considered long-term approach. Securing capital investment to address the immediate shortfalls must be the priority, but it must be accompanied by a detailed plan for the future of the whole health service.

Without both we can’t expect things to get better and Northern Ireland risks becoming a cautionary tale to the rest of the UK.