26 September 2023

NORTHERN IRELAND: “No simple solution” to healthcare issues

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Northern Ireland Public Servants are conscious of not “overreaching” when making decisions about the National Health Service in the absence of a functioning Government in the Province, according to the head of the country’s Department of Health.

Permanent Secretary of the Department, Peter May said massive efforts were being made to deal with current health pressures, but there was no simple solution.

Mr May (pictured) said there had been no sustained focus on healthcare in Northern Ireland for six years.

“We’ve now had nearly a year now without an Executive,” Mr May said.

“Prior to that COVID-19 was pretty all-consuming and then there were three years of no Ministers prior to that as well,” he said.

“So that’s a six-year period in which there hasn’t been that long-term sustained focus on how we are going to improve our health and social care system and for me, that’s the key area we need to focus on.”

Mr May said he and other Department heads were conscious of an accountability deficit.

“We are very cautious and conscious of the need to take decisions that are best for our society, but not to overreach in taking those decisions, not to move outside what we should do,” the Permanent Secretary said.

He said funding “was not the sole solution…but there is no solution without it”.

Mr May paid tribute to the staff across the Health Service.

“I am very conscious of the scale of the pressures and their relentless nature,” he said.

“I also want to make clear that we cannot keep asking our teams to go through this.

“We cannot accept the fact that too many people are waiting in distress, discomfort and pain for care,” Mr May said.

“The problems we are seeing across health and social care are mirrored across these islands.

“There is no quick or simple solution.”

There has been no functioning Executive in Northern Ireland since February 2022 when the Democratic Unionist Party withdrew from the power-sharing arrangements in protest over the Northern Ireland Protocol negotiated between the United Kingdom Government and the European Union.

Belfast, 20 January 2023

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