Belfast Telegraph

Reverse cuts to health budget now

The NHS is recognised as one of the most vital - if not most vital - services delivered by government. For that reason its funding in England and Wales has been ring-fenced even in these times of austerity, but that is not the case in Northern Ireland, where yesterday there were dire warnings of 4,000 job losses, reduced services, growing waiting lists and the possible breakdown of acute services due to budget reductions.

Health officials ideally would like a budget of £5.4bn to deliver a quality service, but admit that, in extremis, they could get by on £4.8bn. That was the figure that Health Minister Michael McGimpsey thought he had secured, but it now transpires that another £200m has been lopped off the budget. It is not as if the NHS here is profligate as per capita spending is lower than in Scotland or England.

Why then should it be reduced to its predicted perilous state?

As ever the answer lies in the nature of the devolved government in Northern Ireland. At Westminster the coalition government agrees on difficult decisions. But the coalition at Stormont is a different beast. Two parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, dominate and there is little evidence of coherent, collective government.

If it was a truly collective government then the Department of Health would not be facing these serious challenges and the £200m taken off its budget would be found elsewhere among the various departments.

All the evidence points to the major parties deciding that a minister from a minor party will have to suffer an undue cut to his budget purely on political grounds. That reveals the true dysfunctional nature of the power-sharing administration and this budget cut should be reversed as soon as possible. The public should make that clear during the current consultation on Stormont's spending plans.

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