Belfast Telegraph

Compared to crisis in hospitals, issues at Stormont are distinctly trivial


By Suzanne Breen

Warnings of the impact of the proposed £70 million cut to hospital budgets will unite people across our traditional political divide in deep concern.

The pressures our cash-strapped health system is facing are well documented and the fear is that a further reduction in funds will push it over the cliff.

Our five health trust boards will today spell out their plans to implement the cuts and, we're told, that non-urgent operations, procedures and appointments will likely be postponed or cancelled.

This comes at a period when waiting times are already ridiculously long.

It seems set to only get worse for all bar those who have the money to go private.

Knee and hip operations and cataract removals might not be officially deemed urgent but, without them, thousands of people's lives are aversely affected.

And over-stretched NHS staff - doing a magnificent job in trying circumstances - could also feel the pain of the cuts with the jobs of agency workers, locums and other temporary staff under threat.

The political parties and the unions will attend all five public meetings taking place in hospitals across Northern Ireland today. Some trade unionists are questioning how the funding crisis is being handled. It certainly suits the government and others to play up the situation in a blaze of publicity in order to increase pressure on some parties to reach a deal to restore devolution.

The reality is that the cuts to frontline health services are on the agenda as a result of a reduction in the block grant by the Tories.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that we have no budget, no Finance Minister and no Executive. But that doesn't mean that the £70m proposed cuts must become a reality.

Stormont sources believe that millions more will end up in health as a result of underspends by other departments.

It is also possible to reallocate money from other departments to health.

This could be done by civil servants - and later regularised by legislation - or by direct rule ministers.

Although waiting lists are now longer than ever, there was a similar crisis in funding in 2014 when the then DUP minister Edwin Poots claimed he faced a £140m shortfall - although his department was protected from cuts imposed on other departments and had £20m added to its budget.

But that is not to down play the serious challenges that we are facing. The £70m may well be found, but it certainly won't solve the bigger problem.

The Bengoa Report lays bare the crisis gripping our health and social care system. By comparison, the issues over which are politicians continue to squabble seem distinctly trivial.

Belfast Telegraph

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