29/01/2010

Prognosis 'Poor' On Looming Health Cuts

There is continuing disagreement at Stormont over funding for the health service.

Even though the Stormont Health Minister, Michael McGimpsey has sent out a clear signal about the "severe consequences for vital health and social care services, if further cuts proceed", his approach has been criticised in several quarters.

SDLP Health Spokesperson Conall McDevitt said that Mr McGimpsey is asking for 'a blank cheque' from the Health Committee by refusing to share any information on how his department will respond to the proposed cuts of £113.5m being sought by the Department of Finance.

He said: "The Minister is asking for unconditional support but is unwilling to provide the committee with any details on his response to the 2010 – 2011 spending plans.

"This head-in-the-sand approach could make the situation much worse and threaten important frontline services."
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Speaking at the Health Committee, the Minister had been outlining that the service is being expected to deliver a further millions in efficiency savings during the next financial year, on top of an already challenging target of £700m.

"Trusts are already struggling to meet the demand for their services within the limited resources they have available. For example, day case admissions have increased by almost 20% over the last five years and there has been a 7% increase in the number of inpatient admissions," he said.

"If these cuts proceed, there will be severe consequences. They will impact on our most vulnerable groups, especially the elderly who require more care and support that anyone else," he warned.

However, Executive Ministers have agreed that £367m needs to be cut from the NI budget next year, with £113m from health.

But giving evidence to the Stormont Health Committee on Thursday, Mr McGimpsey hit back by saying they were "daft proposals" which would cause "pain".

This is in spite of the Finance Minister Sammy Wilson previously insisting that the plans take "a targeted approach" and that health, which has the biggest budget of any Stormont department, will face the lowest level of savings in percentage terms.

(BMcC/GK)

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