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Northern Ireland’s doctors are relieved as Stormont is set to return—but will funds go far enough?

BMJ 2024; 384 doi: (Published 31 January 2024) Cite this as: BMJ 2024;384:q270
  1. Chris Baraniuk
  1. Belfast

“SHAME,” read one placard adorned with pictures of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, and the Northern Ireland secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris. “Send the DUP to Rwanda,” proclaimed another banner. These were just two of the invectives held aloft on 24 January during Northern Ireland’s biggest workers’ strike in half a century.1

As well as protesting about their pay, the strikers were angry that Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government for almost two years. The DUP had boycotted the executive in a protest over Brexit arrangements for the region since February 2022.

However, less than a week after the rallies in many towns and cities, Donaldson announced that his party had at last agreed a return to Stormont, the seat of devolved government, pending the enactment of a deal agreed with Downing Street. It means the probable implementation of various plans and strategies aimed at shoring up the struggling health service and the release of £3.3bn worth of funding to be spread across the public sector.

However, no one expects easy fixes. “There will be lots of competition for those funds,” said Siobhan O’Neill, the government appointed mental health champion for Northern Ireland.

Services on the brink

Northern Ireland’s health crisis has worsened considerably over the past two years.2 Waiting lists are at an all time high3—the worst anywhere in the UK or Ireland4—while many GP surgeries are teetering on the brink,5 and healthcare staff have been leaving in droves to seek …

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