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Watchdog to probe Northern Ireland's healthcare budget cut

By Noel McAdam

The blueprint for health service reform is facing a probe by Northern Ireland's public spending watchdog.

Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) chief Kieran Donnelly is to take stock of the Transforming Your Care policy.

The Department of Health said it had been informed of the review last March, and its accounts are reviewed regularly.

At the weekend, however, the SDLP requested an "urgent" investigation into health service funding following DUP minister Edwin Poots' warning of a £140m budget shortfall.

It could mean reductions in locum and agency doctors and nurses, less money for cancer drug treatments, arthritis and MS, and pay restraint for healthcare staff.

SDLP health spokesman Fearghal McKinney, who met Mr Donnelly yesterday, argued there was the potential for "tens of millions" of pounds to be wasted in the health service.

After the meeting the NIAO said the that review would gauge how implementation of the policy is progressing. It comes on top of three separate reports already under way, including a general report on health – due in December – and the use of health service premises for private practice.

"The discussion with Mr McKinney was invaluable as it provided me with a sense of the experience MLAs are encountering on the ground," Mr Donnelly added.

"This will feed into my plans for my forward work programme."

A spokesman for Mr Poots, who will today face an Assembly committee over his claims, said: "The NIAO informed the department of this review by letter on March 12.

"Already, the NIAO reviews the accounts of the department and each of its arm's-length bodies, including the trusts, on an annual basis.

"They also produce several value-for-money reports each year in relation to particular topics or areas of interest.

"The Public Accounts Committee holds evidence sessions on some of these reports and produces their own PAC conclusions and recommendations."

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