McGimpsey delight over budget health settlement
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey has declared that a significant cash boost for the NHS in the finalised Executive budget "will save lives" across Northern Ireland.
The Ulster Unionist, who vociferously fought for extra cash after the draft budget was revealed, said he was relatively happy with the outcome for health in the final budget agreement.
He said that while the size of the pot allocated to him over the next three years will not allow for all the service improvements he would have liked, " it is the best possible outcome" in light of financial circumstances facing the Executive.
Speaking immediately after Finance Minister Peter Robinson announced final details of the budget package to the Assembly, Mr McGimpsey outlined key areas which he considered "big winners".
These include services for people who need treatment and support for mental health and learning disability, cancer, heart disease and stroke and chronic disease.
He said resources for new service developments over the next three years have doubled from £145m in the draft budget to £300m. Initiatives which will now be brought forward over the coming years include:
additional community-based support for people with mental health and learning disability needs, and resettlement of 70 long stay learning disabled and 80 mental health patients - double the total proposed in the draft budget
the introduction of HPV schoolgirl vaccination programme which can prevent cervical cancer
over 700 additional heart operations and procedures each year
introduction of bowel cancer screening from 2009
Extension of breast cancer screening from 65 to 70
setting up a four-bedded eating disorder unit.
The minister had previously feared these plans would have to be scrapped if his share of the budget was not increased.
The minister said: "The final budget allocation is a good news story for the health service. It is good news for patients, clients, carers and staff.
"While it will not allow me to take forward all the service improvements I would have wanted, in light of the financial circumstances facing the Executive, I believe it is the best outcome possible.
"I want to thank everyone who supported me in my fight for the funds needed to bring essential improvements to the health service in Northern Ireland."
Mr McGimpsey's acceptance of the cash share should draw a long-running row with the DUP to a close.
It erupted when the minister said the health allocation in November's draft budget was not good enough and would cost lives.