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Budget shortfall leaves plans to rebuild health service in tatters

Senior civil servant warns an additional £400m needed to tackle important issues


Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor

Ambitious plans to begin to rebuild Northern Ireland’s decimated health service are laying in tatters as a result of a massive budget shortfall.

A senior civil servant has warned the health service here needs an additional £400m, with mental health services, hospital waiting lists and cancer care all likely to suffer as a result of the black hole.

It has also emerged health officials have been given £40m to help tackle waiting lists something they have previously warned will take up to £1bn to address.

Health bosses have drawn up plans to rebuild the health service in the wake of the latest Covid-19 surge, but it is looking increasingly unlikely they will be able to fund a significant proportion of the work required to address the situation.

Earlier this week, it emerged the number of people waiting longer than one year for a hospital appointment grew by 17,000 in January.

Responding to the fact that £40m has been allocated to address waiting lists, the Northern Ireland Director of the Royal College of Surgeons, Mark Taylor, said: “This is a drop in the ocean for what we need to make a real dent in the waiting lists.

"The only way we will seriously make an impact on waiting lists will be re-profiling our hospitals, to rapidly increase the availability of elective surgery, particularly day case surgery.

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“We need dedicated high through-put centres of surgical treatment, operating six days a week. This will protect surgery from winter pressures or any future Covid-19 challenges.

"It’s never been more important to progress transformation and rebuilding, and put all our efforts into turning our health service around.”

The dire budgetary situation was highlighted at the Stormont health committee yesterday as Brigitte Worth from the Department of Health outlined spending plans.

A briefing paper supplied to MLAs described the final budget as “extremely disappointing for health as it is not adequate to meet the rising demand and the growing needs of our ageing population, nor does it provide a basis for the sustainable rebuild of our health service”.

It revealed that £430m has been earmarked for the Covid-19 response, including £25m for vaccine deployment and £250m for rebuilding of services, while £5m is to be used to fund the cancer strategy.

Meanwhile, more than £2m has been set aside for the cost of the urology public inquiry.

According to Ms Worth, temporary Covid-19 funds have so far masked the scale of the underlying financial pressures facing the health service: “The Minister has recently announced his rebuilding plans for the health and social care system, which will include strategies for elective care, cancer and urgent and emergency care.

"He has also consulted on a mental health strategy.

“Given our current financial position and the outlook for next year, it will be extremely difficult, to say the least, to achieve effective delivery of these plans.

"Without the certainty of additional, sustained funding over a number of years, these plans will not be feasible and the improvements in vital services we all want to see will not be possible.”

Ms Worth also warned officials have no idea how they will fund long-term issues arising as a result of the pandemic.

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