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NI health service ‘not underfunded’ and other departments shouldn’t be ‘plundered’ to finance it, claims DUP’s Sammy Wilson

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DUP MP Sammy Wilson

DUP MP Sammy Wilson

DUP MP Sammy Wilson

DUP MP Sammy Wilson has claimed that Northern Ireland’s health service is “not underfunded” and that other Stormont departments’ coffers can’t be “plundered” to finance it.

The East Antrim MP also criticised Health Minister Robin Swann for his “constant cry” that the health service requires more funding, and said the minister has refused to “accept the responsibility which he has to address these issues”.

Mr Wilson made the remarks after Mr Swann had earlier warned that attempts to rebuild Northern Ireland's health service risk being sabotaged by the absence of a budget.

In response to the criticism, UUP MLA  Alan Chambers called the remarks “delusional” and accused him of “clown car tactics of saying something stupid to distract from other DUP failings”.

Mr Swann said it was “ hard to imagine a worse possible time to deprive our health service of budgetary certainty" in a written statement to MLAs providing an update on reform of services.

A planned multi-year budget which would have prioritised spending in health has not been progressed due to the collapse of the powersharing institutions at Stormont.

The DUP is calling for action from the UK Government addressing its concerns around the Northern Ireland Protocol before re-entering the executive.

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Ministers are currently in position in caretaker roles but are operating with limited powers.

In his criticism of the minister, Mr Wilson said the Department of Health already receives a significant chunk of Northern Ireland’s block grant budget.

“The constant cry from the Health Minister is that he requires more funding, while at the same time refusing to accept the responsibility which he has as minister to address these issues,” the DUP MP said.

“The fact of the matter is that the health service is not underfunded. Last year, the total departmental resource budget in Northern Ireland amounted to £13bn, of which the health service received £6.45bn. Just short of 50% of the total budget.

“In other words, health received as much as was allocated to policing, education, housing, universities, road, environmental protection, agriculture, job promotion and many other government services.

“The insatiable demand can only be met by cutting these vital services further.”

In his criticism of Mr Swann, the former Stormont Finance Minister claimed the Department of Health now swallows up more of the budget than during his time in office, but said complaints and waiting lists are now in a worse state.

He also suggested some of the “problems” in the service were as a result of “deliberate decisions made by the current Health Minister”, referencing decisions to close services during the pandemic and then being “too scared or unimaginative to demand services to return to normal as the Covid threat reduced”.

Mr Wilson added: “The question for Robin Swann is: ‘What has he done to make the money his department receives more effective?’

“What new reforms has he introduced? What pressure has he put on GPs to return to a full service? What plan has he put in place to deal with the waiting lists?

“How has he tried to reduce costs in his Department? What tough rationalisation decisions has he made?”

In his response to the DUP politician, Mr Chambers added: “If the DUP are seriously saying they no longer believe the health service is underfunded, why did they enter into May’s Assembly election committing to spend an extra £1bn?

"Let’s remember Sammy Wilson is the same person who thought it appropriate to take to social media just days before Christmas last year and joke about the pandemic right at the point where patients and staff faced the greatest pressures to date. A sorry episode for which even his own Party leader rightly publicly criticised him for.

“For a short period at least, there appeared to be consensus from across the political spectrum that Health needed to be a priority moving forward and that it would be kept above political wrangling.

"Sammy Wilson’s latest comments, issued through the DUP`s central Press Office and therefore presumably with the permission of his Party Leader, now throws into real doubt whether the DUP are really serious at all on delivering the improvements that they previously said they were committed to.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Swann updated the Assembly on a number of initiatives, including his decision to commission a design plan mapping out the future shape of hospital services across Northern Ireland.

He also briefed MLAs on the review of general surgery and initiatives to improve stroke care and rebuild orthopaedic surgery provision.

But Mr Swann warned that "much more needs to be done to fix our health service".

"Not long ago, patients and staff in Northern Ireland had the promise of a multi-year budget, with the potential for longer-term planning and sustained investment,” he said.

"As things stand at present, we have no budget at all.

"Prolonging this state of affairs would be tantamount to sabotaging the rebuilding of our health service.”


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