Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Thousands of jobs at risk in ‘broke’ health service

Michael McGimpsey said the health service in Northern Ireland will not have the money to pay its bills from next month

Thousands of jobs and life-|saving treatments could be axed after the Health Minister warned the NHS is broke.

While Michael McGimpsey accepted additional cash given to his department is a “step in the right direction” he said he still does not have enough money to pay the bills next year.

Indeed, Minister McGimpsey claimed he needs to find more than £150m of savings in a matter of weeks.

The Department of Health, |Social Services and Public Safety has been given an additional £189m to spend over the next four years but Mr McGimpsey said the new package did not go far enough.

“I am asking people whether they would prefer the Omagh bypass or would they like a new local hospital in Omagh,” he said.

“Do they want a new radiotherapy centre at Altnagelvin or a |new road between Strabane and Donegal?

“Should Casement Park be refurbished or should we build a new maternity unit at the Royal?

“All of these capital projects are still at risk. They can’t be delivered under the current circumstances.

“I am pleased some of the arguments I have made have got through but we still need £200m next year to balance the books and we’re getting £45m, so we’re still £150m short.

“Quite simply, the health |service is broke.

“We’re three weeks from the new financial year starting, which doesn’t leave me any time to plan or do this properly. I am in an impossible position.

“I can’t find this amount of money and I won’t be able to pay the bills. I warned that 4,000 jobs may have to go, and that still stands given the budget we have at the moment.”

The new financial year starts in April so redundancies are not an option — money will have to be saved elsewhere — and quickly.

It is likely access to new drugs will be stopped, independent sector and agency work will be dramatically reduced — meaning clinics and departments will close at short notice and waiting lists will increase further — and domiciliary care packages will be further restricted, meaning bed blocking will soar.

In the Assembly yesterday Mr McGimpsey came under fire for his refusal to implement efficiency measures in a review of spending by the NHS.

The McKinsey Report made a series of recommendations, including the introduction of charges for services and the closure of some of Northern Ireland’s hospitals, and said that any delay in acting will cost the taxpayer millions of pounds.

Of course, both are highly |emotive suggestions but may go some way to helping address the current financial situation.

Certainly, there are some tough decisions ahead — but not for Mr McGimpsey as he will step down from his post in a matter of weeks ahead of the Assembly elections |in May.

The minister has steadfastly argued that the NHS has already been stretched to the limit and many of those working in the health service would agree.

No-one has said efficiencies cannot be found but these must be patient driven and not — as it currently stands — implemented by the need to cut costs, otherwise it will be some of the most vulnerable members of society who will suffer.

It will be up to the new Health Minister — whoever that may be — to make the budget work.

Factfile

How the draft Budget has changed:

  • An extra £120m for Health along with £69m due to an |“internal reclassification”
  • £154m more for Education
  • £51m for the Department for Employment and Learning
  • £107m for Regional Development, among the departments hardest hit in the draft proposals
  • Executive to fund the Paint Hall development in the Belfast Harbour estate
  • Additional funds for libraries and the arts
  • Transfer of £250m from current expenditure to capital |investment


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