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Warning over handouts as £72m given to health service

By Victoria O'Hara

The struggling health service in Northern Ireland must not rely on government monitoring round handouts to survive, a medical union has warned.

The comments from the British Medical Association (BMA) in Northern Ireland came as it was announced £72m had been allocated to the service.

Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir said that when added to the last monitoring round, it meant the overall budget was now £200m.

"This positive monitoring round represents a determination on my part to work with ministerial colleagues to deliver a fresh start not just through words, but demonstrated in deeds," he added.

Mr O Muilleoir told how despite "huge pressures" on budgets, he had managed to bring forward a round that did not contain cuts.

"The allocations made in this monitoring round will deliver positive outcomes by supporting funding for key public services," he said.

"The pressures in our health service are well-documented, and an additional £72m will go a considerable way to help addressing these issues.

"It brings the total additional funding provided to Health this year to £200m and is evidence of the Executive's commitment to protecting our health service."

In her maiden speech to the Assembly, Health Minister Michelle O'Neill said "radical reform" was needed to tackle the stresses facing the local NHS.

The Sinn Fein MLA described hospital waiting times as "completely unacceptable" and said she needed "time, new investment and radical change to deliver services".

There are currently around 400,000 people on a hospital waiting list here.

Last week, Ms O'Neill also indicated that while money would be sought via Stormont's June monitoring round, extra funding on top of that would be required.

Dr John D Woods, the BMA Northern Ireland's chair of council, said the additional money was welcome but the service must be "properly funded".

"We need to see the health system properly funded from the outset, not reliant on reallocated funding in monitoring rounds to survive," he added.

"With the ongoing review of health structures being carried out by Rafael Bengoa, there is a real opportunity to address the structures of the health service and create a system that meets the needs of patients and those working in health.

"All of our services are under pressure. We need ongoing, planned investment in health to enable us to meet the gaps and face the challenges ahead."

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