Extra £160m a year for health service... if there's a welfare reform deal
First Minister Peter Robinson wants to pump an extra £160m a year into our troubled heath service.
The proposed health spending boost is intended to help Health Minister Edwin Poots implement his Transforming Your Care (TYC) strategy for health and social services.
But he warned that it might be difficult to find all the money unless Welfare Reform, which is being blocked by Sinn Fein and the SDLP, is implemented.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph at the DUP spring conference, he said he and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness "spent a long time consulting health professionals during the course of the last week and we went over all of the details".
"They are totally of the view that TYC is the right way to go. It is a decision that should have been taken a long time ago," he said.
Health and Social Services already accounts for the lion's share of the Executive budget -- 47%, or £4,543,400 in cash terms. Mr Robinson's proposed increase would be an inflation-busting 3.5% boost for this budget.
Mr Robinson said: "I am saying what I would do; it is obviously going to be an Executive decision at the end of the day. Even with health being shielded from its share of the Sinn Fein welfare cuts, the fact remains that the health service requires another £160m into the health service to maintain the level that they are currently operating at."
Unless Northern Ireland's benefits system falls into line with Britain, the Treasury will reduce the block grant by betweent £7m and £10m a month to recoup the extra cost. If that cut was spread over the Northern Ireland departments, then the proportionate impact on health and social services budget would be over £60m. Mr Robinson believes the health service cannot sustain such a blow.
"There is no way that health can take the burden of another £60m cut. It can't do it," he said.
Michael McGimpsey, of the UUP, constantly warned of a looming funding crisis when he was health minister before the May 2011 elections. At the time, the DUP attacked him. Mr Robinson claimed "the failure to take any decision during the Ulster Unionist period in that office left us in a very difficult position".
He added: "I read from time to time in the letters column of the Belfast Telegraph and elsewhere that the DUP, having castigated Michael McGimpsey because he wanted more money, are now sympathetic to Edwin Poots when he is looking for more money.
"That is absolutely right, because when Michael McGimpsey was looking for more money, he hadn't taken the necessary decisions to ensure that we could have a healthy health service in the future."
He argued: "Edwin Poots has taken about half a billion pounds out of the budget that Michael McGimpsey had and redirected it into new areas, because we have new drugs coming forward which are much more expensive.
"There is a greater demand on the health service today than there was when Michael McGimpsey was there four years ago."
Mr Robinson spoke to us at his party's spring conference, a closed door review of policy in preparation for next month's elections.
Westminster has introduced welfare reforms which will reduce benefit spending. Up to now, Sinn Fein and the SDLP have vetoed the reforms at Stormont. As a result, our block grant from Westminster stands to be reduced by £87m this year, rising to £114m in 2015-16. Edwin Poots (right), the DUP health minister, has made savings of up to £500m in health and has proposed a new health blueprint called Transforming Your Care. There has been a series of crises as the health service struggles to make the changes within its budget.