Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Health Minister accused of swine flu ‘overreaction’

Stormont's Health Minister has been accused of overreacting to the swine flu scare after it emerged that a further £16m of emergency funding has gone unspent.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said his executive colleague Michael McGimpsey should have scrutinised scientists' advice about the pandemic alert more rigorously before asking for the money from Government coffers.

The DUP representative said some elements of the scientific community had their own agenda for over-stating the scale of certain crises.

“Ministers when they are faced with a crisis should scrutinise any advice they are given as rigorously as possible to make sure that they are not overreacting,” he said.

“Because if they do overreact, there is a financial consequence.” Last September the Executive gave the minister around £50m to tackle the virus to add to the £14m he took from his own departmental budget.

While the virus has claimed 18 lives in the region so far, it appears the worst of the outbreak has past with experts having downgraded the threat level.

Having already handed back £4m to the Executive in December, the return of £16.2m in the latest quarterly re-allocation of funding brings to £20.2m the amount unspent.

Outlining the results of the February monitoring round to the Assembly, Mr Wilson also criticised Mr McGimpsey for the time he took to inform him the cash would not be used, claiming the delay meant not all the funds could be re-allocated to other departments this financial year.

Mr McGimpsey said: “As Health Minister, one of my top priorities is to protect the health of our population.

“It is entirely appropriate for Government to be prepared for the worst while continuing to hope for the best.

“I would have been failing the people of Northern Ireland by responding in any other way

“Northern Ireland has been one of the best prepared countries in the world.

“It is incredibly easy to be wise with the benefit of hindsight but pandemics are, by their very nature, unpredictable.

“Swine flu is still with us. It hasn’t gone away.

“I will therefore continue to ensure Northern Ireland is well prepared and would encourage others to stop playing politics with the health service,” Mr McGimpsey added.

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