Northern Ireland’s health minister concerned about NHS being “abused”
Edwin Poots, Northern Ireland’s health minister, has recommended that patients who end up in A&E due to alcohol or drugs should pay a fee for their care.
Mr Poots has expressed his worry about the number of the patients who use A&E services because of their own irresponsible behaviour, telling the BBC “The United Kingdom has a great principle of health care, free at the point of need to all who need it irrespective of their ability to pay for it. I think it is a wonderful principle but I think on occasions it is abused and we sometimes need to look at how we can make sure that abuse doesn’t take place.”
With severe strain on A&E services, Mr Poots has provided extra resources to tackle long waiting times in emergency departments. Figures show that between April and June, targets to treat patients within 12 hours were missed more than 700 times in NI, with health service staff urging patients to only attend A&E if they are desperately in need of emergency care.
Would you pay?
With concerns about funding within the health service, some people have called for a debate about limited charging, including the former Labour health minister Lord Warner. Mr Poots has suggested the possibility of people paying for emergency care if alcohol or drugs contributed to their need for hospital treatment, explaining “The principle of it has merit. The implementation of it is more challenging. We need to ensure that people who need medical care are not put off receiving that medical care.”
Roisin Devlin of the Royal College of Nursing said “The NHS has a duty to care for all, and the principle is that it’s free at the point of care. My concern would be where the line would be drawn and who would decide which patients should be charged. It’s not something that emergency nurses would be keen to do.”
Patricia McKeown of Unison, a union representative, said “This is political dogma and has nothing to do with the delivery of safe, high quality universal health care.”