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Fresh budget friction as health service is deprived of £20m

The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety budget will no longer get a £20m funding boost from a pot of money not spent by other Government departments.

During the current budget period, DHSSPS has received up to £20m in each monitoring round — the process where Government departments surrender money they do not spend, which is then used to supplement other departmental budgets.

But the Finance Minister has now confirmed this will no longer happen.

It is the latest development in a row over the draft Budget and the future of the health service in Northern Ireland.

While Sammy Wilson has argued health has received a good deal, the Health Minister has warned the NHS in Northern Ireland could face collapse if the draft Budget as it currently stands is approved.

Michael McGimpsey is angry that while health has been protected, which represents about 77% of his overall budget, social services and public safety have not been ring-fenced.

There were suggestions that |Mr McGimpsey could use the monitoring round money to plug the gap but this will not now be possible following Mr Wilson’s confirmation that the monitoring round deal currently in place will not continue into the next budget period.

Responding to a question from Michelle O’Neill, deputy chair of the Stormont health committee on the matter, Mr Wilson said: “There is no provision made in the draft Budget 2011 to 2015 for the continuation on the guarantee of first call on available in-year money up to the limit of £20m each year to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.”

Mr McGimpsey said the confirmation from the Finance Minister is further proof of the financial challenges faced by the health service.

“Sammy Wilson has finally confirmed what I have been saying all along,” he said.

“Anyone who actually read the draft Budget document could see there is no provision made for the continuation of the guarantee of first call on available in-year money up to the limit of £20m each year to DHSSPS. This is another example of a major hole in the draft Budget.”

The relationship between the two ministers has become increasingly strained in recent months.

Mr McGimpsey has warned he has six weeks to find £200m to stop the health service in Northern Ireland from collapsing.

Under the terms of the draft Budget, Mr McGimpsey is allowed to divert money away from health to provide additional funding for social services and the Fire and Rescue Service.

But he has claimed he cannot afford to remove any money from the health proportion of his budget as it is already struggling to cope following a series of massive cuts imposed on the NHS.

He has also argued that social services are an intrinsic part of the health service and without community care packages, hospitals in Northern Ireland will be pushed to breaking point.

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