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BMA warns NI health system ‘cannot cope’ as talks resume to restore Government

The BMA in Northern Ireland has stressed the urgency of restoring the country’s Government as official negotiations resume, warning that the health service ‘cannot cope’ if talks do not progress.

Elected representatives of Northern Ireland’s Legislative Assembly have today come together to resume talks after two years of no functioning assembly.

The BMA welcomed the move and highlighted the ‘significant disadvantage’ that health systems have faced since 2017, while there has been no Government.

It cited key policies that have been introduced in other parts of the UK, such as those on soft opt-out organ donation, minimum unit alcohol pricing, and the sugar tax.

The body also warned Northern Ireland has ‘the worst waiting lists in the UK’ and these have become worse since the collapse of government.

Prior to the Assembly’s collapse in 2016, 47,072 patients were waiting more than 52 weeks for their first outpatient appointment. Two years later, almost 95,000 people are waiting over a year (94,953), it said.

The BMA called on members of legislative assembly (MLAs) to ensure the country’s institutions are back up and running again.

Dr Tom Black, chair of BMA’s Northern Ireland Council, said: ‘We welcome that our elected representatives are back around the talks’ table again after two years of no functioning assembly.

‘However, in those two years Northern Ireland health and social care services have been at a significant disadvantage without a minister to sign-off on key policy-making decisions.’

He added: ‘We have a growing, ageing population with more complex health needs than ever before. The system cannot cope. For the good of the country’s health and social care services, for our patients, we need devolution restored so the wheels of transformation can be progressed.’

Dr Anne Carson, deputy chair of BMA’s Northern Ireland Council, said: ‘We have the worst waiting lists in the UK and these lists continue to increase. We do not have enough doctors in general practice or in our hospitals.

‘Although some progress has been made on transformation initiatives as outlined in ‘Health and Wellbeing 2026 – Delivering Together’, significant investment cannot be made without a minister in place and new legislation to support this cannot be introduced without a legislative assembly.’

Earlier this year the BMA expressed concerns that problems with GP shortages and practices closing had now spread across Northern Ireland.

In November, research showed the number of GP practices in the country had fallen by 5%.