‘Madness’ over Irish language affecting health

Sinn Fein allowing “a disagreement about Irish language legislation” to hamper key reforms in our hospitals has been described as “madness,” by the DUP’s Paula Bradley.

North Belfast MLA Ms Bradley said the “blame game” over the ongoing political stalemate was irrelevant to those being treated on trollies in the corridors of over-stretched hospitals.

“Providing excellent care for sick people requires reform of how services are delivered,” she said.

“Bengoa was a road map to developing a more modern, caring and efficient service. Those key reforms are now sitting on the shelf gathering dust. 2017 was entirely lost as an opportunity to advance vital reforms.

“Michelle O’Neill cannot walk away from this failure and wasted opportunity. As the [Sinn Fein] minister when Bengoa was finalised, Ms O’Neill was fully briefed of the need, yet she prioritised an Irish language act over those reforms. Was she just running away from taking tough decisions?”

Ms Bradley said “Michelle O’Neill must accept that her party’s actions have hampered Bengoa being implemented,” and added: “Legislation for languages or cultural matters could have been advanced the same way any bill would be on the floor of the Assembly. Yet, Sinn Fein has stalled the Assembly because they want legislation agreed first and then debated on the Assembly floor.

“Regardless of how legislation is dealt with, it is madness to allow a disagreement about Irish language legislation to hamper key reforms in our hospitals.”

Ulster Unionist health spokesman Roy Beggs said the current crisis in the health service was “entirely predictable and preventable.”

Mr Beggs said: “The strain of this year’s winter flu was long known to be much more virulent and unfortunately the local health service was already in a frighteningly precarious position as a result of the growing pressures over the last two or three years.”

He added: “Every year Northern Ireland faces these pressures with growing intensity and even though the coming of winter is entirely predictable, the demands on local hospitals are still regularly described as unexpected or unplanned. Until the shortfall between demand for services and the capacity of the local system to cope is resolved, we are continuing to condemn ourselves to a never ending cycle of hospital crises.”

Michelle O’Neill has called for all political parties to “support hard-pressed health workers” rather than “using the current political impasse to score political points”.

Ms O’Neill said: “Sinn Féin want to restore our Executive and our Assembly, an Executive which enjoys public confidence and one which delivers rights and public services for all our people.

“We can all engage in a circular blame game but that does nothing to help our health workers or to get the political institutions back in place.”

The fresh row over health issues follows the release of figures earlier this week showing that from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day almost 1,000 people had to wait longer than 12 hours to be admitted or discharged from Northern Ireland AE departments.

On Friday, the Irish News reported that one patient waited 49 hours in an emergency department during the exceptionally busy Christmas period.

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