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Northern Ireland's health service facing 'humanitarian crisis' - claim 280,000 waiting on consultant

Call for Westminster to take control

By Trevor Mason, Press Association Political Staff ·

The health service in Northern Ireland has been under incredible strain.

Ministers have been warned of a potential "humanitarian crisis" in Northern Ireland's health service.

Former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey said there were 280,000 people waiting for a consultant-led first appointment.

Lord Empey called on the Government to bring powers back temporarily to Westminster on "humanitarian grounds" to "offset what could be a potential humanitarian crisis in the winter as the health service is totally unable to cope".

Decisions had to be taken, Lord Empey told peers at question time in the Lords.

The Government had an "over-arching responsibility" to the people of Northern Ireland and could not "keep hiding behind the fact that there is no movement between the parties".

His question came after recent protest rallies in Northern Ireland over the failure of Assembly members at Stormont to patch up their differences and get back to work.

For the Government, Viscount Younger of Leckie said no option was "off the table" and the Government "is prepared to step in to protect the interests of Northern Ireland to ensure the country is stable economically".

He said the Government's single most important priority remained to restore an executive at Stormont.

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey

"The people of Northern Ireland deserve this," he added.

Lord Younger said the return of the parties to Stormont remained a "credible and achievable option" and the issues dividing them were not "insurmountable".

For Labour, former Northern Ireland secretary Lord Murphy of Torfaen said the province had been without a government longer than Belgium and it was time for fresh thinking.

He urged the Prime Minister to get involved and called for intensive all-party talks and the possible involvement of an independent chairman.

"If we don't do any of these things inevitably we will drift to direct rule, which will be a total and utter disaster," Lord Murphy warned.

Lord Younger said the Prime Minister remained fully committed to bringing about the restoration of the executive and kept in close touch with what was going on.

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The health service in Northern Ireland has been under incredible strain.
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Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey