Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Edwin Poots wants Stormont Executive to decide on health cuts

Health Minister Edwin Poots
Health Minister Edwin Poots

Edwin Poots is set to propose drastic health service cuts to his Executive colleagues today - but washed his hands of making the final decision.

Instead, the health minister has said the Executive as a whole should make the call on where the axe falls.

As his department plunges deeper into a funding crisis, the DUP is believed to have proposed cuts to services such as out-of-hours doctors, emergency departments, social work, childcare, and care for the elderly.

A plan to appoint specialist nurses for cancer treatments could also be put on hold.

The chief medical officer, Dr Michael McBride, has voiced "profound concerns" about the impact of cuts on services.

Mr Poots' plan will go both to the Executive and the health committee.

He described it as "what is required if we are to live within the budget that is proposed".

Last night, Mr Poots said that he did not feel he could make decisions for his own department alone because of their controversial nature.

Mr Poots explained his reluctance was because of a series of recent cases where Stormont ministers faced legal action over their decisions. "We have had a number of court cases where ministers have been tested in terms of taking controversial decisions, and it is very clear where a minister can identify that where a decision is particularly controversial they will need to go back to the Executive," he said.

Earlier Mr Poots and Sinn Fein Education Minister John O'Dowd clashed in a 45-minute tit-for-tat row over funding.

Both denied their parties had been responsible for a £40m allocation from the June Monitoring Round being halved to £20m.

Mr Poots insisted that Sinn Fein cut it, but Mr O'Dowd claimed that it was the DUP. Mr Poots contradicted this and said Mr O'Dowd was "wrong". In an extraordinary showdown on the BBC's Nolan Show, the two men blamed each other's party for the crisis.

Mr O'Dowd also accused Mr Poots of "mismanagement" of the health budget. Mr Poots responded saying it is "a matter of believing one or other side".

"The fact of life is that there was £40m put in there originally by the DUP. Whenever the negotiations with Sinn Fein had completed there was £20m," he said.

"One can be very clear the DUP set out to get £40m, they didn't insist they cut money to their own department by half."

Earlier, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt had called for the Executive to be recalled as the crisis deepens.

Background

Health Minister Edwin Poots has threatened to resign rather than implement cuts which he claims would "destroy our health service".

He got just £20m in the June Monitoring Round of surplus cash, and has now claimed Sinn Fein were responsible for halving the £40m that health had originally been due to get.

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