Edwin Poots was a fairly competent if at times somewhat undistinguished minister in the last Stormont executive. Since, taking on the Health portfolio, however, there are signs he has started to up his game to a marked extent. Initially he made the politically expedient choice as expected by all and gave the go ahead to the new Cancer Centre in Altnagelvin. Few surprises there.
The News Letter today reported the BMA calling for a radical reduction in the number of acute hospital to the predictable complaints of Michelle Gildernew and Jim Wells. They trotted out the usual tired and inaccurate claims that Northern Ireland is extremely rural and has bad roads hence, needing more hospitals. The fact that much of England, Wales, and Scotland are more rural, have poorer roads and yet have centralised hospital services producing better quality care is of course ignored as is the fact that the RoI is proceeding in exactly the same fashion.
Poots might be expected to follow a similar line to Gildernew and Wells: however, there are suggestions that he may be willing to make the tough but necessary decisions. The BBC is quoting him suggesting a radical change in the way hospital care is structured here.
He did not name any hospital, but it is understood that the future of the Mater Hospital’s accident and emergency unit in north Belfast is in doubt.
Mr Poots also said critical care services in hospitals such as Daisy Hill in Newry should be restructured.
“I intend to get things moving and move quite rapidly,” he said. “We have a short space of time to get a lot of information out there.”
He also promised announcements on cancer and arthritis drugs.
Many had hoped that McGimpsey would be the man to sort out the NHS here but he failed pretty disastrously. Poots may become the champion of reforming our health care to bring it up to date. Although that will no doubt earn him some brickbats if he can achieve the sort of reform which is needed and steer it through the assembly not only will he have done Northern Ireland health care a great service but he will also do his own political position significant good. Until recently when one talked about competent DUP ministers who might go on to better things Arlene Foster’s name sprang to mind. If he manages these reforms maybe Edwin Poots will become the one to watch.