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Privatising health sector could free up more funds

The Finance Minister, Mervyn Storey, observes (DebateNI, February 10) that, while some may criticise his Budget, "none have put forward a viable alternative and explained where they would cut funding to give other areas more money". It's not my intention here to criticise this Budget, but rather to briefly interrogate one viable alternative.

His colleague, Health Minister Simon Hamilton has begun a consultation process on health provision in Northern Ireland, which consumes roughly half of the Budget spend. Well, the viable alternative to the health service is to privatise health provision.

My guess is that the Health Minister, whoever that may be after the upcoming elections, could open exploratory talks with the private health sector in the USA, Europe and elsewhere to explore what level of health provision they could provide for a population of 1.8 million - ie the size of a small city - and how much it would cost the Executive per annum. These private health providers may want to purchase some of our existing hospitals as part of the deal, but they may prefer "new build" instead.

Any buildings not needed can be sold to local property developers and, as hospital buildings are invariably located in prime locations, they are likely to generate a substantial windfall.

The funds generated from this sale could possibly pay off the Executive's outstanding loans, or they could be invested through a vehicle similar to the Republic of Ireland's national pensions reserve fund for the benefit of future generations.

At the very least, the Finance and Health Ministers have a duty to set aside ideological considerations to explore this option and conduct a cost-benefit analysis of their own as to its viability, which, in turn, can then be objectively weighed against the other options.



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