N. Ireland Politics

Simon Hamilton resigns four times in past three weeks

Simon Hamilton
Image caption Northern Ireland is currently without a health minister after the resignation of Simon Hamilton

The Health Minister Simon Hamilton has resigned four times in the past three weeks, the BBC has learned.

Simon Hamilton resigned along with several other DUP ministers as a result of the political crisis at Stormont.

While the talks continue, the DUP has a policy of keeping its ministers in office for only a few hours each week.

Mr Hamilton has faced calls to resume his position as soon as possible to tackle growing waiting lists and address other pressing issues.

The chair of Stormont's health committee has said the department's permanent secretary will appear before it next week to discuss the crisis.

Sinn Féin's Maeve McLaughlin said she had asked Richard Pengelly to attend and explain what was being done to address the situation.

Earlier, a former Northern Ireland Office (NIO) minister said he was "astonished" that problems in the health service in Northern Ireland were the same as those 30 years ago.

Sir Richard Needham, who was at the NIO for 10 years from 1985, described waiting lists as "appalling".

His comments come after the Royal College of Nursing called for the health minister to return to office.

Ministerial Appointments / Resignations
Ministerial MLA Resigned Appointed Resigned Appointed Resigned Appointed Resigned Appointed Resigned
Minister of Regional Development Danny Kennedy (UUP) 2 Sept
Minister for Health Simon Hamilton (DUP) 10 Sept 16 Sept 17 Sept 23 Sept 24 Sept 30 Sept 1 Oct
Junior Minister Michelle McIlveen (DUP) 10 Sept
Minister for Enterprise Jonathon Bell (DUP) 10 Sept 16 Sept 17 Sept 23 Sept 24 Sept 28 Sept 29 Sept 30 Sept 1 Oct
Minister for Social Development Mervyn Storey (DUP) 10 Sept 16 Sept 17 Sept 23 Sept 24 Sept 30 Sept 1 Oct
Minister for Regional Development Michelle McIlveen (DUP) 21 Sept 21 Sept 23 Sept 24 Sept 30 Sept 1 Oct

Sir Richard said he did not want to "over-exaggerate" the problems in the health service in Northern Ireland and although the current situation was "very serious", he said the system "still gives a remarkable degree of successful treatment to the vast majority of the population".

'Same arguments'

He did raise concerns that the same problems were reoccurring.

"What astonishes me is that the arguments that are going on are exactly the same arguments that I faced 30 years ago," he said.

He said he agreed with the Donaldson Review's recommendation of considering getting politicians "out of the way" and getting a solution to the management of the system.

Image caption Janice Smyth said the situation was unsustainable

"Then you can say to politicians to stop pandering to whoever the latest person is knocking on your door," he added.

On Friday, the trade union Unison and Cancer Focus Northern Ireland joined calls made by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) for Simon Hamilton to resume his position as health minister as soon as possible.

Patricia McKeown of Unison said the current situation was "totally unacceptable" and she said the DUP "should move away from the health portfolio".

"If you're not prepared to run the health service, which is way above politics - it is about the health, well-being and the lives of people. If you are not prepared to do that and take it seriously, then stand aside."

Ms McKeown's comments were echoed by Roisin Foster of Cancer Focus Northern Ireland who said there was a need for "strategic leaders".

"We've had plenty of reviews and experts looking at how we are structured and saying there are things that need fixed and we do need that leadership," Ms Brown said.

Speaking on the BBC's The View on Thursday, Simon Hamilton said he wanted to be back in office to address the problems in the health service.

Mr Hamilton refused to confirm whether he would be back in his post permanently before the publication of a security assessment on paramilitaries in mid-October.

Image caption Leading UK health expert Nigel Edwards said "action would be taken" if Northern Ireland's waiting list figures were seen in hospitals in England

It will be carried out by a panel which was set up by the government to help address the crisis at Stormont.

It was triggered following a police assessment that IRA members were involved in the murder of a former IRA man in Belfast in August.

On Thursday, a leading UK health expert said heads would roll in England if the waiting list crisis was on the same scale as in Northern Ireland.

The BBC revealed in July that some patients were waiting up to 18 months for hospital appointments.

In all, there have been 17 resignations involving DUP ministers since 10 September.

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