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Northern Ireland health service overspend soaring to £300m

Exclusive: Ex-chief warns Stormont crisis is leaving public in unsustainable situation

By David Dawson

Northern Ireland's health service is facing a potential overspend of more than £300m this year - which will worsen already unacceptable hospital waiting lists, a former Northern Ireland health boss has warned.

The massive sum dwarfs the Renewable Heat Incentive that led to the collapse of Stormont, which is predicted to cost more than £400m over 20 years - or £20m a year.

John Compton, ex-chief executive of the Health and Social Care Board, said the health system is in an "unsustainable" financial state and the political stalemate at Stormont is making things worse.

Read More: 'We must find a way forward or our health and social care system will simply decline'

In a hard-hitting article for today's Belfast Telegraph, he also fired a challenge to the politicians locked in talks to save devolution. Those negotiations resume at Stormont today with fears growing about the day-to-day impact on public services if an Executive is not soon restored and a budget finally agreed.

Mr Compton said the political crisis poses "a very real threat to the functioning of our health and social care service" and has left many working in the system feeling "let down".

The article also spelt out factors behind an "unprecedented financial challenge" in the system which "threatens to undermine its ability to respond to our needs".

He stated: "The financial challenge for the year 2017/18 after the service makes its normal annual savings of £60m-£80m, which is no small task, will be over £300m. This is a huge overspend and an unsustainable financial position. We will all notice and bear the consequences if this is not resolved, yet not all of our politicians seem anxious."

The former health service chief said the overspend will lead to services being "rationed".

He continued: "How will rationing show itself? It's really quite straightforward. We will all have to queue longer for services. Waiting lists, already unacceptable, will get longer. The time we wait to see our GP will grow."

He said the political impasse at Stormont has delayed the health reform process from the Bengoa report published last October.

"In the interim, the existing service model, which is not fit for purpose, soaks up more and more cash," he continued.

"Perhaps just as crucially, it has left many working in the system feeling beleaguered and let down. Even if Bengoa gets back on track, have our politicians the courage to lead the change - or will they lead the protest to stop change?"

Health service problems in Northern Ireland are never far from the headlines. The most serious include growing hospital waiting lists, intense pressures on GP services and major staffing shortfalls.

The Stormont political crisis has left a vacuum in government, with no budget in place for 2017/18. Concerns about the impact are growing across different policy areas, including squeezed school budgets, youth club provision and feared job losses in the community and voluntary sector.

Mr Compton headed the Health and Social Care Board from 2009 until his retirement in 2014.

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