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Gloves off as parties trade blows over health service

By Lisa Smyth

The DUP and UUP have again engaged in a war of words over the state of the health service — with both accusing the other of failing some of the most vulnerable people in society.

The already strained relationship between the two parties soured further yesterday as they attacked one another during separate Press conferences to discuss health priorities ahead of the Assembly elections.

The planned radiotherapy centre at Altnagelvin seems no closer to being built as both sides accused the other of holding up progress to score political points.

Outgoing Health Minister Michael McGimpsey hit out at the Deputy First Minister after he branded Martin McGuinness’s controversial announcement that he cannot press ahead with the radiotherapy centre at Altnagelvin Hospital as “sectarian”.

Mr McGimpsey said Mr McGuinness’s comments were “tantamount to incitement to hatred”. He also hit out at DUP claims the health service received a good financial deal in the Budget. “I don’t know when the penny will drop,” he said.

“I have been quite clear about the consequences of not cutting the health budget. I wanted to be the minister to announce the radiotherapy centre would go ahead.

“It was only a glimmer when I took up the post of minister and I have championed it.

“Health is too important to me to play politics with it. I think it would be immoral to do that.

“The project would not be at the stage it is at if it wasn’t for me.

“I have set aside the money to build it, but it is only a building.

“The important part is the staff. I need to start training staff in September but I don’t have the money to do that.

“The only way I can do that is by taking money out of services now, such as domicillary care packages and I’m not prepared to do that.

“I have a business case with the Department of Finance at the moment but they cannot approve it because I cannot meet the affordability. Once the business case is passed we can start planning the building but that can’t happen until the first business case is approved.”

While he did not rule out the possibility of visiting Londonderry to speak to constituents about the situation surrounding the future of cancer services in the North West, he said those responsible for cuts to the health service cannot hold him responsible for his inability to fund the running of the radiotherapy centre.

Meanwhile, at a DUP Press conference, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said a major review of the health service in Northern Ireland ordered by Mr McGimpsey was an admission he has failed as Health Minister.

He also confirmed he is not against giving the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety additional money.

Mr Wilson said the Performance Efficiency and Delivery Unit (PEDU) — a body that examines spending in government departments — has to ascertain no further efficiencies can be found.

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