Belfast Telegraph

Health service costs may bankrupt Stormont

By Gillian Halliday

Northern Ireland's chief medical officer has told MPs that the health service in Northern Ireland could "bankrupt" Stormont.

Dr Michael McBride also told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in London yesterday the Stormont impasse is preventing long-term health strategies from being implemented.

Northern Ireland's most senior doctor also warned that with our growing ageing population, the health and social care service has the potential to "bankrupt" government here if it is not funded adequately.

Over the next eight years Northern Ireland's population is expected to grow by a further 77,600.

By 2026, the numbers aged 65 and over will have reached 74,500.

Dr Michael McBride told the committee of MPs: "The health service has the potential in Northern Ireland to bankrupt all other government departments and all other public services because of the changing demographics, ageing population, rising public expectations, rightly so. All of us are living longer, but not necessarily living longer, healthier lives."

He made the comment outlining the financial constraints currently facing the Department of Health. He said Northern Ireland needs a "sustainable funding baseline" instead of non-recurrent Executive funding to deal with problems such as waiting lists, which have grown since the money "dried up" in late 2014.

Dr McBride said it has been "challenging" for the department in the absence of ministers.

He was asked if the lack of a functioning Executive was impeding the department's progress on overhauling the health service here.

"There is no substitution for democratically elected ministers," he said.

Stressing while "undoubtedly" there was much preparatory strategy work the department could do, in terms of long-term permanent changes, the "machinery of government" was required.

However, he said that even with the ongoing political stalemate, the department could make policy decisions in instances were it deems that there is a "compelling public interest".

"If, however, these are matters that we determine are not critical, then they should rightly wait for an incoming minster," added Dr McBride.

"What will not do as a department is delay decisions, or avoid decisions... that will have a fundamental impact on public health and well-being."

Dr McBride was also asked about the stalled implementation of a new suicide prevention strategy.

Admitting the department was "keeping it under review", he told Lady Sylvia Herman that he was not "dithering" on the issue when she criticised the department for not pressing ahead with its implementation without a minister.

Dr McBride, however, said any assertion that "lives have been lost as a consequence" of the strategy not being implemented was "factually incorrect" given current services available and new ones being introduced.

"It is potentially dangerous to suggest... that people are being unable to access the services they require today, tonight or this weekend.

"That is quite frankly not the case," he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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