“One of the main issues which I as a public representative receive correspondence, calls and complaints from constituents about is the health service.
People complain that they cannot see or even contact their GP. They are concerned about waiting lists which for some aliments, stretch for 6 years. They are increasingly angry that to obtain healthcare, they are having to seek private provision if they can indeed afford it.
The constant cry from the Health Minister is that he requires more funding, while at the same time refusing to accept the responsibility which he has as Minister to address these issues.
The fact of the matter is that the Health Service is not underfunded. Last year, the total Departmental resource budget in NI amounted to £13bn, of which the Health Service received £6.45bn. Just short of 50% of the total NI budget.
In other words, Health received as much as was allocated to policing, education, housing, universities, road, environmental protection, agriculture, job promotion and many other Government services. The insatiable demand can only be met by cutting these vital services further.
In England, 44% of the budget goes to Health and the Minister there has only in the last week, said that his own budget should not be increased any further because it is unfair to expect other services to carry the burden of the inefficiencies in the health service.
The question for Robin Swann is ‘what has he done to make the money his department receives more effective?’ What new reforms has he introduced? What pressure has he put on GPs to return to a full service? What plan has he put in place to deal with the waiting lists? How has he tried to reduce costs in his Department? What tough rationalisation decisions has he made?
As a former Finance Minister, I know that the Health budget has jumped from 40% of total spending to today’s 50%. Yet, at that time, waiting lists were shorter, dependency on private health was less and GP services were not receiving the level of complaints they are today.
We cannot continue to plunder other department’s budgets to finance an unreformed health service. Some of the problems we face today were a result of the deliberate decisions made by the current Health Minister to stop screening for certain diseases, to close whole sections of the health service, which we warned would have longer term consequences and then to be too scared or unimaginative to demand services to return to normal as the Covid threat reduced.
The question for the Health Minister today, is with the 50% of NI’s budget resting in his Department, how is he going to use it to deal with the health issues enflaming anger amongst constituents.”