Belfast Telegraph

Health service faces difficult decisions on budget warns Pengelly

Richard Pengelly
Richard Pengelly

The man in charge of Northern Ireland's health service has said he cannot afford to pay for lifesaving treatments and pay rises for staff while also tackling hospital waiting lists.

Richard Pengelly, the Department of Health’s Permanent Secretary, said the health service in Northern Ireland is facing a £20m black hole in its budget.

As a result, he said he is unable to adequately fund a range of crucial NHS services.

Speaking at a Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy conference in Belfast, Mr Pengelly said: “I have stated that my department does not have the money to do everything we are being asked to do.

“It’s now in the public domain that our health and social care trusts are facing a projected £20m deficit this financial year.”

He restated the need for a debate to establish the public’s spending priorities in the face of budgetary pressures.

"While intensive work will continue to ensure their books are balanced, the reality is that the projected deficit represents only a small part of the escalating pressures and demands we are facing in the months and years ahead," he said.

“Currently these are presented to me with frustration – the argument being that because I don’t do something, it means I don’t want to do it. That is certainly not the case."

Mr Pengelly said that he had been left with difficult decisions to make and could not please everyone.

“Why wouldn’t I want to reduce waiting lists, increase pay for hard pressed staff and reduce the pressure on those staff by recruiting and training more colleagues?  Why wouldn’t I want to improve mental health provision and focus on suicide prevention, commission new drugs for patients with cancer and other serious conditions?," he said.

“The truth is I simply can’t afford to do all these things – in fact, I can’t afford to do all the things we currently do.

“And with a fixed budget, I can only do more in some areas by doing less in others. And that is the key challenge.

“It is why we need a society-wide conversation on budgetary priorities and how best to use the limited resources we have.  In the next year alone, the competing demands and pressures could between them add hundreds of millions to an already very stretched health budget.”

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