Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland health service 'can't continue' at same level due to funding, warns chief civil servant

Northern Ireland's health service is under increasing financial pressure.
Northern Ireland's health service is under increasing financial pressure.

The head of the Department of Health has warned that Northern Ireland's health service cannot continue in the same way due to financial pressures.

Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said that if the health service continues at the same level it will take up Northern Ireland's entire budget within 20 years.

The BBC has reported that the Northern Ireland health service currently costs £26 billion a year to run, but only £17 billion is being raised to spend on the health service, with costs rising every year.

Mr Pengelly said that that current model was unsustainable and that the health service "can't continue the way we are".

"We have enough money to run a world class health service, but we don't have enough money to run this health service," he said.

"At the moment to run the same service this year as we did last year and next year, it's about 6% increase per annum.

"If we continue on that trajectory, within about 20 years the health service will need virtually all the money that's available to the executive."

The top civil servant was speaking to the BBC as part of their Spend it Like Stormont series which looks at the finances involved in running Northern Ireland.

The NHS is under pressure across the UK, with only London and England's south-east and eastern regions having a budget surplus.

Mr Pengelly said that closing hospitals was not being considered by the department as a cost cutting measure, but did concede that some services may be consolidated.

Richard Pengelly
Richard Pengelly

Northern Ireland currently has eleven hospitals, one per every 170,000 people, whereas Wales has one for everyone 230,000 people.

"None of our work will involve taking a hospital and saying: 'Do we need that hospital?'," Mr Pengelly said.

"It is saying that within that environment, there are a range of services we could offer.

"It may mean that members of the public have to travel a little bit further and in some cases a little less.

"You can't replicate every service in every location."

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