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Edwin Poots stays put... Health Minister's vow as budget row rages

By Victoria O'Hara

Beleaguered Health Minister has said he has no intention to quit his post and vowed: "Poots stays put."

DUP minister Edwin Poots has warned that his troubled department cannot cope with massive budget cuts.

Last month he warned he was not prepared to make £140m in cuts to the ailing health service, and threatened that "they find someone else to do it, or they do it themselves, or they find the money".

But yesterday he struck a different tone when he told the Belfast Telegraph that he would work with what he was given.

It follows a Stormont Castle meeting last week between Mr Poots and fellow DUP Executive members, First Minister Peter Robinson and Finance Minister Simon Hamilton.

Afterwards, Mr Robinson issued a statement saying the Health Minister would work with what had been agreed – £80m. That was half what Mr Poots had initially called for, although he still argues that he would he "happy" with £140m.

Mr Poots and chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride issued a blunt warning to the Assembly's health committee last week of the consequences facing patients unless their departmental budget was boosted.

They said such extreme cuts would lead to reductions in cancer drugs, the numbers of locum and agency doctors and nurses, arthritis and MS treatments, and pay restraint for healthcare staff.

After speculation over his future in the post, a defiant Mr Poots insisted he would not be abandoning his role and would have the support of Mr Robinson and the Finance Minister in October, when millions of pounds of Stormont funding are allocated.

Asked if was considering stepping down, he replied: "Poots stays put."

It's understood that Mr Hamilton will seek £60m for health in next month's 'monitoring round', which follows £20m given to health from the delayed June budget negotiations.

"They (Mr Robinson and Mr Hamilton) certainly support me getting more money," said Mr Poots. "We are having a serious discussion later this month about all of the budgets in the run-up to October.

"I will be making it very clear that we require incredibly greater funding than the £20m and will be doing that with the support of the DUP. It would cause potential pain to other departments if health was to get all £20m, however I think we can get a considerable amount of that."

Asked how much he would need to address the current funding crisis, Mr Poots said: "I would be happy with the £140m.

"Anything less will give me problems – but we will work with whatever money that will come to us."

He also confirmed a review launched in May into how cancer patients can access specialist drugs not approved by National Institute for Health and Care Excellence is still ongoing.

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