Waiting lists need urgent action
As the number of Covid cases and deaths thankfully decline and we emerge from the latest lockdown, attention is rightly shifting to the worsening situation facing those suffering from other health conditions.
Before the pandemic, Northern Ireland had dreadful waiting lists. The lengthy waits endured by patients with often painful and debilitating illnesses was nothing short of scandalous.
Following a year-long pandemic, the position has deteriorated further.
Earlier this month, health minister Robin Swann said that without significant and recurring funding from the Stormont Executive, it could take up to ten years to tackle our current waiting lists which are the worst in the UK.
No one can be in any doubt by now that root and branch change is required to ensure we have an efficient and effective health system that delivers care in a timely fashion.
The reforms proposed by the Bengoa report provided a blueprint for the type of system required to meet the needs of an ageing population.
While there is broad political support for the report, any changes that are introduced will not come quickly enough for people who are struggling to cope with serious conditions.
People like father-of-four Kevin McIvor, from Bellaghy, Co Derry, who suffers from a hereditary form of scoliosis, a condition that causes the spine to curve abnormally and can crush the internal organs.
His distressing story was outlined in yesterday's Irish News, with Mr McIvor explaining how his life has been impacted by severe pain, poor mobility and breathing difficulties as the curve is pressing on one lung.
Facing years on a waiting list in the north, he travelled to Turkey for examination where he was told that if left untreated, his spine could sever and he would be left paralysed.
He is now trying to raise the money needed for surgery, which can cost between £45,000 and £50,000.
Unfortunately, this patient is not alone in facing what is an appalling dilemma - wait years for treatment and potentially grave outcomes or try to find the sort of sums that are beyond the reach of many people so they can travel abroad for surgery.
Mr Swann said that to cut the waiting lists, which he described as 'absolutely dire', would take more staff and more certainty on funding.
This is essential if we are to properly plan for the future and tackle our shocking and unacceptable delays.