Belfast Telegraph

Blame game begins as parties look to point finger over health service crisis

By Noel McAdam

PolIticians have embarked on a new blame game as £10m-a-month spending cuts threaten to engulf the health service.

The growing crisis could be averted if the talks to restore Stormont - due to resume in the next few weeks - achieve a deal.

The DUP last night blamed Sinn Fein for the £70m in cutbacks.

Former health minister Edwin Poots said: "This is the result of not having Stormont in place which is because Sinn Fein is putting other issues above the problems of the health service."

But former Sinn Fein education minister John O'Dowd hit back: "Regardless of whether there is an Executive or not there are still going to be huge pressures on our health services because the Tory government has been cutting public expenditure.

"We should not lead the public to believe the return of an Executive will bring a utopia."

Another former Sinn Fein minister, Caral Ni Chuilin, also pointed the finger of blame at the DUP.

"These cuts are not the result of the crisis at Stormont - they are the result of austerity policies conceived and implemented by a Tory cabinet in London. So it's not weasel words from James Brokenshire we need, it's our money back," she said.

"Of course a sustainable and properly resourced local Executive would help mitigate against the worst impact of austerity, but the DUP continue to block its restoration through their insistence on discrimination against many sections of our society."

Mr Poots, however, countered: "The DUP is willing to be around the Executive table tomorrow, taking much-needed decisions and trying a chart a way through the challenges.

"Sinn Fein failed to bring ­forward a budget before they ­collapsed the Executive, and desperately needed health reforms have been stymied over the last year."

He also added there were "only limited areas" in which cash savings can be found in-year and the DUP would want to ensure patients "particularly our most vulnerable" are protected.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood accused the two big Executive parties of "ducking and diving their responsibilities".

"But let's be clear, health is a devolved matter and if those who have already abdicated responsibility to take on the British Government in Westminster, really want to fight against austerity, they cannot abdicate responsibility here too," he said.

Ulster Unionist health spokesperson Roy Beggs said: "Sinn Fein representatives had the audacity to speak out against the cuts, obviously overlooking the fact that Michelle O'Neill abandoned her responsibilities when she walked away from being health minister earlier this year.

"We should have a health minister and Executive in place leading the transformation needed to improve healthcare."

Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong said: "The immediate challenge is to address this current funding crisis, followed by reforms to avoid this in the future. It is beyond obvious the parties need to restore functioning devolution."

Green Party leader Steven Agnew added: "The people on waiting lists and in need of medical support and assistance deserve more from their elected representatives."

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