The Northern Ireland Health Minister has advised that a north-south body involved in healthcare cooperation between Northern Ireland and the Republic cannot meet because there is no power-sharing Executive in Northern Ireland. This means the expansion of cross-border healthcare initiatives has been stalled.
The North-South Ministerial Council (NMSC) is one of the ways in which cross-border healthcare initiatives between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are advanced. The council’s health work programme focuses on accident and emergency planning; major emergencies; cooperation on high technology equipment; cancer research; health promotion and child protection.
The cross-border body has been unable to hold meetings for months because the first and deputy first minister posts have been left vacant, which are statutory requirements to enable the NSMC to meet.
Stormont has been in limbo since February when the DUP withdrew its First Minister from the devolved government in protest over Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol. The step automatically removed Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill from her previous position as Deputy First Minister and it means the Executive cannot meet.
There is no time scale for the limbo to end.
Cross-border healthcare is just one of several important initiatives that have been held up due to the DUP’s continued boycott.
The state healthcare sector in Northern Ireland is struggling and the Irish one also has problems. Cross-border cooperation is a key element of health service reform and would address the issues being experienced in the health service on both sides of the border to provide the best outcomes for patients and staff.