Leading article

Reforming health must be a shared endeavour

Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar were at Stormont yesterday to put the seal on the restoration of a devolved administration and to enjoy a rare political success story in Northern Ireland.

It has to be said there has been a fair degree of positivity over the past few days, the SDLP's dismay over the appointment of Alex Maskey as Speaker rather than the expected Patsy McGlone, one of the few discordant notes.

Few could blame the Irish and British premiers from wanting to share in the upbeat mood, although much of the hard work to get us to this point was done by the estimable secretary of state Julian Smith and the impressive foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney.

Now the new ministers have been appointed, a honeymoon period is traditional but given the vacuum of the past three years, it is likely to be brief.

In other words, people will want the executive to quickly get stuck into the major issues that have been at the forefront of public concern, with health a key priority.

Health minister Robin Swann will be expected to move swiftly to resolve the industrial dispute over nurses' pay and safe staffing levels but there are wider and deeper problems that must be addressed.

The health portfolio is generally regarded as a 'poisoned chalice' in government terms and while it is crucial that sufficient funds are released to tackle the most urgent issues, the reality is we need radical reform requiring tough decisions.

In that respect it is important that the executive takes collective responsibility for changes that may well be unpopular and may attract considerable flak but will need to be achieved if we are to ensure a healthcare system that can cope with the demands of an ageing population.

A failure to move forward on the reviews of the past has brought us to a point where the health service is experiencing an unprecedented crisis with waiting lists that are nothing short of shameful.

However, while accepting that difficult choices lie ahead, it is also vital that the process of change in health and other departments is properly managed with a transparency and openness that was singularly lacking in the last Stormont administration.

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Leading article