Roy Beggs MLA, the Ulster Unionist Health spokesperson, has expressed concerns at suggestions to reduce the Health budget by £68m during this financial year.
The East Antrim MLA told Finance minister Simon Hamilton in the Assembly: “From talking to nurses and doctors, I am aware that the health service is under extreme pressures at present. I had been advised that each Health and Social Services Trust had been in deficit. Given the pressures and the annual increase in demand for health services, it is incredulous that anyone is suggesting reducing the health service budget.”
Mr Beggs warned: “Such a suggestion could cost lives.”
During Question Time, Mr Beggs asked the minister: “What levels of additional resources were allocated to address pressures within the Department of Health as an outturn of the headroom within the 2013-14 budget?”
Mr Hamilton replied: “The department were allocated an additional £57m in resources departmental expenditure limit during the 2013-14 monitoring round process. I can confirm that there has been no further allocation to the Department since the January monitoring round. I expect that the Health Minister should be able to manage his financial pressures to ensure that he stays within the budget control totals set by the Executive.”
In turn, Mr Beggs said: “I welcome the belated recognition by the minister of the considerable financial pressures that exist in our health service. However, the minister indicated this morning that he might be proposing to remove £68m from the current year. Have the minister and the Executive considered what the cost would be to patients if £68m were removed from the health service?”
The Finance Minister proceeded to defend the £68m cut, saying: “If we have to proceed down the route I have suggested, which is that reductions of 1.5 per cent will have to be made to every Department’s budget – every Department having to take a 1.5 per cent cut – that will equate to a reduction of close to £70m in the health budget. Ultimately, if the Executive agree to go down that route because of non-progress on welfare reform, the exact and precise handling of that would be a matter for the Health Minister.”