Belfast Telegraph

Hospitals face £70m budget cuts as stalemate holds up vital funds

By Suzanne Breen

Fresh reductions to hospital budgets are looming - despite the DUP securing an extra £50m for health in its hung Parliament deal with the Tories.

Plans will next week be revealed to axe £70m from health trust funding.

Sinn Fein and the DUP blamed each other for the cuts.

DUP MLA Christopher Stalford said: "This is the latest impact that will be felt by the public of Sinn Fein's refusal to form an Executive.

"Everyone is agreed that our healthcare system needs major reform and there is cross-party agreement on the process to deliver that.

"However, Sinn Fein's Stormont abstentionism is blocking this reform and is hurting the public.

"The DUP secured extra funding for Northern Ireland following the agreement with the Conservative Party at Westminster. We want to see those funds benefiting the people of Northern Ireland as soon as possible."

But Sinn Fein's health spokesman Pat Sheehan said the pressures on the health budget were a direct result of Tory cuts, which had seen more than £1bn slashed from Northern Ireland's block grant by successive Conservative administrations.

Mr Sheehan added: "The DUP have, of course, given their unconditional support for these austerity policies as a result of their deal to prop up Theresa May's government.

"However, if the DUP are serious about establishing an Executive to get on with delivering public services like health and education, then that can be done providing it is on a sustainable, credible basis by implementing agreements and having rights and integrity at its core." The DUP-Tory deal involved a £1bn package for Northern Ireland. This included £300m for health, some £50m of which was to tackle "immediate pressures".

But the package has been held up by the ongoing stalemate over restoring the Stormont Executive.

A Department of Health spokeswoman yesterday said:  "The health and social care system is required to deliver an annual balanced financial plan in the 2017/18 financial year.

"Therefore, trusts have been tasked by the department to develop draft plans to deliver their share of a total of £70m of savings in 2017/18. The department has advised the trusts to consult on their savings proposals in line with the department's policy guidance on public consultations.

"The public will have their opportunity to comment on the draft savings proposals during the consultation period."

All five of Northern Ireland's health trusts will hold public meetings next week to discuss the proposed £70m cuts.

The meetings will take place in the Ulster Hospital; Knockbracken Healthcare Park; Craigavon Hospital; Antrim Hospital, and Altnagelvin Hospital on Thursday.

The party leaders have been briefed about the meetings. The SDLP said further health cuts would have a detrimental impact on patients.

The party's health spokesman Mark H Durkan said: "The crisis in GP services, the failure to make new cancer screening tests available, acute pressure on waiting lists - these issues need strategic ministerial leadership to advance the health service transformation plan."

Ulster Unionist health spokesman Roy Beggs said: "There are immediate pressures and if there was an Executive formed we would have access to extra funding to help alleviate them.   

"We need a Health Minister in place to deliver on both Transforming Your Care and the Bengoa recommendations - failure to do so is letting down our front line staff and patients."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said: "Clearly the money allocated to health for this year has been insufficient to meet growing costs.

"The process of reforming the health system under the Bengoa report is stalled. The political deadlock means we don't have an Executive to address these pressures.

"It is now important that the head of the Civil Service, and the Health and Finance Departments, engage with the Secretary of State to see if underspends could be identified in other areas of public service and this money go to health."

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