SDLP Assembly Member Justin McNulty has raised concerns on the real pressures being faced by local health care staff and services.
The Newry & Armagh MLA has said, ‘our health service is under extreme pressure, and these pressures can be acutely felt across the board. In recent weeks, we have learned that 335,000 people are on hospital waiting lists, 5,124 children are waiting on an Autism assessment, almost 6,000 GP Out of Hours shifts have gone unfilled, and 1,047 red flagged cancer patients are waiting for urgent surgical intervention.
“Whilst COVID-19 has undoubtedly exacerbated many of the problems faced by our health service, it would be a mistake to claim that the pandemic is the root cause of the structural deficiencies in our health and social care sector. COVID has only served to expose and compound these critical weaknesses which have been brought into being by chronic underfunding and a programme of relentless austerity.
“Another critical issue which needs to be addressed is the enormous pressures on our NHS staff. Frontline workers have long carried the health service on their backs, and the recent pressures of the pandemic are taking a toll on workers. With more than 3,000 staff referrals for occupational health services having been made within the last 24 months, it beggars belief that the Department of Health has withdrawn the specialist psychological support services for staff that were available during the first wave of the pandemic
“As the health service rebuilds after Covid, we must ensure that robust patient-centric care is placed at the heart of that recovery process. In addition, we need to see immediate and urgent action taken to address the crisis in waiting lists across the system, with real investment in primary care so as to enhance and expand access to GP, out of hours, and accident and emergency services in the immediate term. Beyond that, we need to see comprehensive structural reforms in the NHS, with robust support mechanisms for staff, as well as a guarantee that funding will not be lost to back office functions, but rather will find its way to the front line where it’s needed most.
“Our health service and the workers who drive it forward don’t need rounds of applause, token gestures, or platitudes. What we need to see is meaningful action to tackle chronic underfunding across the system, so as to build a strong and resilient health service for generations to come.”