Belfast Telegraph

Warning over NHS cuts impact

More people could be waiting in pain for treatment if NHS cuts in Northern Ireland go ahead, the chief medical officer has warned.

Cancer services, stroke prevention and drugs for chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis may be threatened by the £140 million funding deficit this year.

Sinn Fein and the DUP have been engaged in a wrangle over reallocation of Executive funds and health minister Edwin Poots has said he cannot impose the resulting spending reduction.

F ines are being imposed by the Treasury because of Sinn Fein and the DUP's failure to agree on welfare reform.

Mr Poots' main medical adviser Dr Michael McBride said a litany of services could be affected.

"If these decisions are taken more people will be waiting for Nice-approved (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) drugs and having to develop a waiting list."

He added: "That is people waiting in pain and people developing complications potentially if these situations materialise. Those complications will ultimately be more costly."

Sinn Fein is refusing to endorse welfare reforms because of concern about the effect of "austerity cuts" on the most vulnerable. This has resulted in the Westminster coalition, which argues the reforms are intended to help people out of the benefit trap and make work pay, withdrawing money from the Northern Ireland block grant which funds public services.

The health minister said he had managed his budget to the best of his ability but admitted there was still wastage to be reduced. He accused Sinn Fein of undermining the NHS due to its stance on welfare.

He told the republican party's Maeve McLaughlin: "The position of your party is hurting innocent people, it is hurting people who need care and it is hurting people who work in the health system."

He added: "I am putting it to the assembly that we need to ensure that we make the right decisions in and around health and if your party's priority is welfare stand up and say that.

"My party will have the priority of health and I won't shirk away from that."

He said there would be a need to treat more people for cancers and diabetes as the population ages.

Dr McBride outlined some of the potential implications:

:: It will impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of services envisaged to improve under the Transforming Your Care measures.

:: Screening for thousands of people for stroke danger signs may not go ahead.

:: Cancer services helping treat those with blood poisoning could be affected.

Mr Poots said: "It is not scaremongering, it is a factual analysis of those areas where expenditure has not yet been committed.

"As the financial year progresses, the options to curtail such expenditure are diminishing."

Ms McLaughlin, health committee chairwoman, halted Dr McBride as he listed the implications of the budget cuts.

She told the minister: "All of us do deserve a first-class health service that is free at the point of delivery and that actually targets health inequalities and provides better outcomes for all of our citizens.

"This current scenario is a mess, there are clearly very real questions in relation to the management of your budget."

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