Healthcare providers have issued a stark warning that failure to form an executive at Stormont will worsen Northern Ireland’s health care crisis and endanger patients’ lives.
Representatives of doctors and nurses made the intervention on Thursday in a tacit appeal to the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) to not derail the formation of a new administration on Friday.
“Our health service is on the verge of collapse,” said a joint statement from the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association Northern Ireland, the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, and the Royal College of GPs.
The five organisations said a political impasse would disrupt planning and endanger the ability to fund elective care, mental health and cancer strategies. Stormont is to meet on Friday, a week after Sinn Féin overtook the DUP as the biggest party, giving it the right to nominate a first minister.
“We are appealing to our newly elected representatives to put our health service first, form an executive without delay,” said the statement. “We have the longest waiting lists in the UK, emergency departments are overflowing, general practice is in crisis, and we have chronic workforce shortages, alongside burnt-out staff who are contemplating leaving the health service for ever. The situation could not be more serious.”
The DUP made no direct response to the appeal but its MP, Sammy Wilson, said the party still planned to block a new executive unless the UK government addressed its concerns over post-Brexit checks on goods entering the region from Great Britain. Power-sharing rules mean there can be no executive without DUP participation.
“Being inside the executive would require us to implement the agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol, something which we believe damages our constitutional position, removes the democratic decisions from Stormont and is damaging our economy,” he told the BBC.
The foreign secretary, Liz Truss, has told the EU the UK may scrap parts of the protocol but the DUP wanted to see concrete action, not just words, said Wilson.
The DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, has said the party may block not only an executive but also the assembly when Stormont meets on Friday, a move backed by militant elements in unionism, including the Traditional Unionist Voice, which siphoned votes from the DUP in the election.
Moderate unionists have condemned the looming impasse as reckless, as has the centrist Alliance and nationalists. Most of the assembly’s 90 members endorse the protocol as the least bad way to deal with Brexit.
“The DUP’s attempt to hold the north to ransom until they get their own way on the protocol cannot be allowed to continue,” said Colum Eastwood, the MP and Social Democratic and Labour party leader. “Their selfish actions show their contempt for families in our communities who are struggling to heat their homes, put food on the table and petrol in their cars during the current emergency.”
A report on Thursday from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) undermined DUP claims that the protocol was hurting the economy. It said the Northern Ireland economy outperformed the UK average and had recovered to pre-pandemic levels. “This is partly an outcome of the Northern Irish protocol and its special status in the Brexit arrangements, including better trade and investment conditions as part of the EU’s single market and customs union.”
Grace periods on some border checks have delayed the full impact of the protocol.