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Ulster Unionist health spokesman Robbie Butler describes Nolan debut like 'Daniel in the lions' den'

By Jonny Bell

Published 26/10/2016

Ulster Unionist Party spokesman Robbie Butler MLA.
Ulster Unionist Party spokesman Robbie Butler MLA.
First Minister, Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, Health Minister, Michelle O'Neill and Professor, Rafael Bengoa pictured at an Executive meeting held in Parliament Buildings. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

The Ulster Unionist Party's health spokesman described his debut on the BBC's Stephen Nolan Radio Ulster Show as like "Daniel in the lion's den".

Robbie Butler took the proverbial during a debate on the show about Health Minister Michelle O'Neill's 10-year vision for the future of healthcare in Northern Ireland and the release of the Bengoa report into reform of the system.

The Ulster Unionist health spokesman admitted during his Nolan interview he "struggled to find the words" on what was his first time facing the BBC presenter.

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During the show, Mr Butler described the minister's vision for healthcare as "light on detail" and "lacking clarity" in certain areas. He also complained about the delay in the report and how they were not given access to it "until beyond the last minute".

He also described the Bengoa report as good and that his party "liked what they hear".



 

He was asked if his party supported the centralisation of services as mentioned in the report.

Mr Butler responded: "We live in a complex society and need to look at centralisation of services on a case-by-case basis.

"It all comes down to affordability - and in certain circumstances centralising services add benefit not only to services but also patient."

The former firefighter said he did not support the centralisation of accident and emergency units.

"When in an emergency situation, the sooner the intervention the greater the chance of success and the better the outcome," he added.

Mr Butler - who sits on the Stormont health committee - was asked repeatedly what his party's plan was to address the serious failings in the health service.

He said there was nothing wrong with Bengoa report or the minister's vision on the back of it.

"To have a plan you need a number of objectives," he continued.

"They need to be measurable, achievable and timely and that is what is missing from this report.

"There is nothing bad about the report, there is nothing bad about what the minister has produced.

"We are not saying that.

"The public are being let down by the health service, by the department, by the minister.

"These reports are done and they are not being implemented."

John Compton, who previously authored a similar report on transforming Northern Ireland healthcare, said on the show that when specialisms were centralised across fewer sites, outcomes would always be better for patients.

"The evidence is irrefutable," he told Stephen Nolan.

Asked why, if the experts said that to centralise services would improve patient's chances of survival, Mr Butler responded: "We need to support services, we need to support our staff - we have the best staff.

"It is not about the money, it is about providing the best care we care with the resources we can.

"This is more complex than gathering together the combined services. If there was a plan there, we could support something like that.

"We will support the plan when it has detail, we have no problem with that."

When Stephen Nolan said that the Ulster Unionist Party's position was that it would not support the centralisation of services, he said he did not say that.

He added: "I have not said we would not centralise services.

"If we had the health ministry, which was the last ministry to be picked up by any of the parties when they came to power in May.

"And bear in mind, when we knocked the doors, the number one issue on people's lips was health.

"And what was disappointing.... I'm a new politician and this feels a bit like Daniel in the Lions' den by the way."

The former DUP health minister Edwin Poots offered his sympathies to his fellow Lagan Valley MLA. He said: "It is understandable, the show is known for probing people and that is a new experience for Robbie and he has my commiserations on that part.

"Nonetheless, as a political party they need to have clear political policies and after hearing that I am not so sure they do."

Later Stephen Nolan himself faced criticism for his handling of his interview with the health minister.

One caller, Raymond from Clougher said: "I tuned in, I wanted to hear what Michelle O'Neill had to say, but all I heard was what Stephen Nolan had to say - that was the worst of bad manners, it wasn't an interview."

When asked if he wanted to declare an interest, Raymond admitted that he was a Sinn Fein member and a former councillor for the party as well as a NHS worker.

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