By Paula Bradshaw, outgoing MLA for South Belfast and Health Committee member 2016-17.
A frustration of this election campaign, like so many others, is that parties have sought to make it about things other than those which matter to people’s daily lives – jobs, education, health and so on. Those are in fact the areas of policy upon which the Executive makes decisions and where Assembly members can make a real difference – yet for reasons best known to themselves, the outgoing Executive parties have largely chosen to ignore them.
Making a real difference is why I got involved in politics. One of my first moves as an MLA in the Assembly was to present a petition of equal access to cancer drugs; my last act of the term was to meet the Minister and be informed that indeed a consultation was being set up to enable the complex administrative changes to take place so that equal access to cancer drugs could become a reality. I am a results person and I was delighted by this outcome.
Over my time on the Health Committee I was able also to ensure that there would be access to other drugs previously denied to us in Northern Ireland such as nivumulab; I was able to raise the profile of conditions which do not have a large lobby presence here such as ME; and I was successful in pushing for an inquiry to ensure Allied Health Professionals are more prominent in the process of Health and Social Care Transformation.
I was therefore utterly appalled that the Executive fell, for no good reason whatsoever. No politician should ever put their own interests ahead of the greater good, especially at such a key period in Health and Social Care reform (as well as tackling education gridlock, planning for Brexit and everything else). I was even more appalled that it fell without a Budget (due last year) and without a comprehensive overall Health Reform plan.
It is clear that institutional reform is required, otherwise the system would not have collapsed after only eight months; it is also clear that we need different political leaders determined to make the institutions work for all the people, not just for themselves and a select few. But, to be clear, I and my Alliance colleagues are seeking re-election to make it work and to get back to work.
I would dearly love to get back to work on the Health Committee too, where we had by and large put partisan priorities aside. However, Reform is a complex process and it is not enough simply to say it must proceed. The process will require significant financial investment; it will require the recruitment of change management expertise; and it will require highly competent risk management procedures. Nor is it good enough merely to consult on criteria or to produce one-year plans; an overall ten-year reform plan is necessary, with clarity about how success will be assessed and how failure will be countered. Such a complex process is no place for populists; it will be challenging and it requires political and administrative leaders prepared to meet the challenge.
I trust, therefore, that on 2 March the people of Northern Ireland will turn out to vote, and that they will reject the petty divisive populism of the past and instead return to Stormont people who want to get things done. That is the choice before us!