We won't be spending millions on art works for hospitals, vows McGimpsey
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey has moved to tackle recent controversy over hospital spending on artwork by ordering a review into the matter.
The minister said that while he understood the importance of art in providing a healing environment for patients, he also had a duty to " ensure that public monies are spent appropriately and that maximum value for money is secured".
Mr McGimpsey hit out at recent reports which claimed that up to £30m was to be spent on art for hospitals in the province in the next 10 years.
Those estimates were based on projections that the Department of Health intended to spend just under £3bn on capital projects in the next 10 years, 1% of which - £30m - is allocated to art.
The controversy first hit the headlines earlier this month when it was alleged that the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald would be spending £4m of a redevelopment budget on art.
Announcing the review, Mr McGimpsey confirmed that his current policy does allow for some of the construction budget to be spent on artwork, which includes improvements to landscaping, lighting and signage, as well as works of art.
" In recent years this expenditure has been constrained, however, to no more than 1% of the capital budget, and in practice is considerably less," he said.
"I have a duty to ensure that public monies are spent appropriately and that maximum value for money is secured. I have therefore asked officials to review the current policy into spending on improving the patient environment.
"In particular, I want clear guidance produced on how resources should be found for works of art."
The minister claimed that allegations about the Ulster Hospital were " simply not true".
"Let me be absolutely clear: there have never been any plans to spend millions of pounds on works of art in any healthcare facility," he insisted.
"I expect health trusts to spend their capital budget allocations appropriately and with proper regard to value for money for the taxpayer, and my department will continue to closely monitor all such spending decisions.
"I want health trusts to build on the existing good practice of obtaining grants and working with arts organisations and local communities to create an aesthetic and healing environment as efficiently and effectively as is possible."
As part of the review, the minister said he wanted a clear definition of what can be considered 'artwork'.
He also denied suggestions that money was being spent on artwork at the expense of jobs or patient care.
"This money comes from our capital budget which cannot, under Treasury Rules, be used for employment of staff or patient treatment services," he added.
"I have asked officials to report back on their findings as quickly as possible and to produce clear guidance for healthcare organisations on future spending to improve the patient environment."