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Health minister O'Neill's accused of ignoring waiting lists in latest monitoring round

By Luke Barnes

Published 28/10/2016

Minister Michelle O’Neill
Minister Michelle O’Neill
Paula Bradshaw

The health minister has been criticised for not asking for any money to tackle Northern Ireland's growing waiting lists when funds became available earlier this month.

Michelle O'Neill's department received some extra funding in this week's October monitoring round announcement - but none of it was to deal with waiting lists.

Quarterly monitoring rounds allow the Executive to reinvest unspent funds - and departments must bid for extra funding.

The revelation prompted questions over the Executive's commitment to deal with the problem.

Alliance health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw said: "It is important patients get the correct treatment in a timely manner.

"If the minister is not bidding for extra money to tackle waiting lists and then informing the health committee as to her actions, it is clear that will not be the case."

Ulster Unionist finance spokesman Philip Smith told the BBC: "This was meant to be the number one priority of the Northern Ireland Executive and they really should have been seeing where they could scrape together the money to target this."

Last year, £40m was found to tackle extended waiting lists.

In September 2016 there were 65,000 attendances at Northern Ireland emergency departments, an increase of 3,000 since September 2015.

The number of patients waiting longer than 12 hours more than doubled from last year, from 64 to 154.

The Royal Victoria Hospital recorded the longest average time spent by patients in the emergency department, at six hours and four minutes.

Ms O'Neill downplayed the significance of the lack of extra funding, saying the October monitoring round was less important than the £200m she had already secured from the Executive coffers this year in addition to her baseline budget.

The Sinn Fein minister told her Stormont scrutiny committee the traditional process of departments making specific bids for extra monitoring round funds was no longer in operation.

She said it was therefore wrong to say she had a bid for funding rejected.

"I wasn't turned down - there is no longer a formal bidding process," she said.

"October monitoring has absolutely changed. What there is now is an ongoing dialogue with the Finance Minister (Mairtin O Muilleoir) and Executive colleagues and I have had that discussion with him on many occasions."

She added: "I am not disappointed by October monitoring - October monitoring is what it is.

"I think that's not the way to address the longer term issues in the health service."

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