Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Health service crisis: I warned this would happen, says Michael McGimpsey

Budget call: Michael McGimpsey
Budget call: Michael McGimpsey

Former Health Minister Michael McGimpsey says he has been vindicated over his warnings that the health service was at a financial "tipping point" when he was in office.

The Ulster Unionist says he has been "proven right" on his alerts back in 2011, which attracted major criticism from the DUP.

He said DUP claims that there was "plenty of fat" to be trimmed from the ailing health service have been shown to be unfounded.

"Our health service needs money urgently," Mr McGimpsey said. "I was saying that three years ago it was running on empty. They didn't believe me then – but I think they believe me now."

The South Belfast MLA's comments come after Edwin Poots said a £140m shortfall in the department budget will lead to massive cuts – plunging the health service into crisis.

Among the cutbacks likely to be made are:

  • A reduction in Hospice funding.
  • A £1.1m cut to funding for Altnagelvin's radiotherapy unit.
  • Around £1m cut from GP out-of-hours services, despite an 18% increase in their use since 2009.
  • A £500,000 cut in oncology services – potentially leading to a breach of cancer access targets.

Mr McGimpsey, who held the health portfolio from 2007 until 2011, said welfare reform issue was a "red herring".

"It is a smokescreen to hide the fact that over the last three years the health service has been running on empty," he said. "Edwin Poots went into the job saying he had enough money to do the job but we have gone from crisis to crisis."

The DUP Finance Minister at the time, Sammy Wilson, accused Mr McGimpsey of using "scare tactics", adding there was "plenty of fat" to be trimmed from the health service without affecting standards.

Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland, said while Mr Poots' comments were a "frank and honest assessment", the issue needs to be resolved now.

"Nurses feel devalued, demoralised and disempowered working in a system that is not fit for purpose," she said.

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