Time to tell politicians that our votes cannot be taken for granted - The Irish News view

Hospital waiting time figures underline need for radical action after years of failure

The NHS will be a hot topic of debate at the next general election
(Peter Byrne/PA)

We find ourselves in the midst of an election campaign, as most people will by now be well aware. Posters on lampposts, doors being knocked, pictures of smiling candidates splattered across social media.

Politicians enjoy campaigning, pressing the flesh and getting themselves out and about. They certainly seem to enjoy it more than governing, as the dire state of many of our public services demonstrates.

The latest evidence comes in a comparison of health data on both sides of the Irish Sea by respected analyst Peter Donaghy.

We know that waiting lists in Northern Ireland are by far the longest in these islands, if not the entire continent. It is nothing less than a scandal and an indictment of the devolved structures established by the Good Friday Agreement.

The way many temporary doctors are expected to work in the NHS can pose a risk to patient safety, a new study suggests
More than a third of patients are waiting over two years for treatment (Peter Byrne/PA)

Yet it should still be a cause of outrage to learn that more than a third of patients are waiting over two years for treatment.

Such waits are almost unheard of elsewhere in the UK, and fall way outside the target of no-one facing longer than 52 weeks for inpatient/day case appointments.

And we know that some are left languishing with chronic conditions for much, much longer – as long as five or six years in some cases. This despite spending more per head on health than other regions of the UK.

Of course behind every statistic is a real person with real health needs. Long waits run the risk of patients developing more debilitating and complex conditions, requiring more complicated and expensive treatment; let alone the impact on mental health and their ability to contribute to the economy and live a full and active life.

With lists now so long, and budgets so tight, it would be easy to regard it as an almost unsolvable problem.

It’s not. It’s like that because it has been allowed to get that way by successive Stormont executives and the British government. Is there another developed country in the world that would tolerate such basic dereliction of duty?

Is there another developed country in the world that would tolerate such basic dereliction of duty?

The prescription to save our ailing health service has been laid out in report after report and requires transformation at a structural level, backed by a sustained programme of investment. Yet four months into the latest incarnation of the assembly and executive, where is the evidence of urgency?

So, as general election candidates seek our votes over the remaining weeks of the campaign, ask those who have held positions of influence over the last five years why they have failed their constituents, and challenge those seeking election about their parties’ collective failure at Stormont.

It is perhaps only be sending a resounding message that votes cannot be taken for granted that our politicians will be forced into action.