The row between Sammy Wilson, the Finance Minister, and Michael McGimpsey, who holds the health portfolio, has just turned toxic.
Mr Wilson has accused Mr McGimpsey, who heads the department with the highest spend in the Executive, of “shroud waving” and “scare tactics” when he should be tackling a culture of waste within the health service.
Health accounts for around 43% of the Executive budget and there is “plenty of fat” to be trimmed from it without affecting standards, Mr Wilson insisted. He rejected claims that 4,000 frontline health jobs could be lost.
“The money health has is not spent very wisely,” he said. He pointed out that Mr McGimpsey had more flexibility than other ministers in transferring money from capital to current budgets and retaining unspent funds at the end of spending reviews.
“He says he is £200m short but there must be £200m in savings lurking within the labyrinth of health spending; he shouldn’t find any difficulty squeezing between 6% and 8% out of a budget like that,” Mr Wilson said. He claimed he was often approached by members of the public pointing out waste in the system.
The Finance Minister called for areas of preventative healthcare and home packages for the elderly or disabled to be outsourced to voluntary and non-profit making bodies like the Chest, Heart and Stroke Association.
“There are big savings to be made but it means challenging the professionals within the system. Why do we always deliver services through statutory agencies when there is a plethora of groups within the voluntary and social economy sector who could deliver them more efficiently?” Mr Wilson asked.
Mr Wilson was impressed by arguments made by the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA), which represents voluntary sector and charitable organisations. NICVA released a |report which condemns the Executive’s budget but is particularly critical of Mr McGimpsey, who they accuse of trying to pass hard choices onto other ministers.
Mr Wilson accused health managers of “flying around the place to conferences and all the rest of it as if cost didn’t matter”.
Mr McGimpsey has defended attendance at conferences in Florida because it allowed managers to study best practice models.
“If you want to find best practice there are plenty of people who write about it; you don’t have to go to the other side of the world,” Mr Wilson snapped back.