Stormont budget could lead to 'painful cuts' to healthcare warn Derry reps

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Derry City and Strabane District Council members have warned that the recent Stormont budget could lead to “painful cuts” to healthcare provision.

At a Full Council Meeting on Wednesday, May 29, People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin proposed writing to the Executive to request clarification on the impact of Tuesday’s budget on the health and social care service.

He also called for “assurances staff, hospital beds and home care beds will not be subjected to painful cuts”.

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The proposal warned that the £7.76 billion budget allocation for health and social care means a projected reduction of 400 acute hospital beds, a reduction of 1,200 health and social care staff, a reduction of 1,100,000 hours of domiciliary care over a year, and the reduction of 500 care beds in Northern Ireland.

People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin.People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin.
People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin.

In response to the budget, British Medical Association Northern Ireland Chair, Dr Tom Black, warned that the allocation was “simply not enough to sustain a health service that is struggling to function effectively with a huge workload and workforce crisis”.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Councillor Harkin said the health service has been “in crisis for many years due to Tory austerity and by decisions made at Stormont.”

“We didn’t have a Government for many years,” he said. “So there were high expectations about this budget.

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“It alarmed me that a quarter of MLAs and the former Health Minister voted against it, and that should set off alarm bells.

“We have a crisis already, and if the budget leads to these cuts it will be absolutely unacceptable.

“The Government has said protecting the health service and its staff is a priority, but this seems to be going in the opposite direction.”

Sinn Féin councillor Christopher Jackson said that healthcare had been “decimated by over a decade of Tory cuts”.

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He added: “There’s a cabinet of millionaires in London that doesn’t recognise the value of our services, not least our health service.

“Yesterday’s budget was set under very challenging circumstances, and our First Minister, Michelle O’Neill, has said health has to be protected.

“But the simple fact remains that the block grant wasn’t enough, and there needs to be a fundamental change around how our health services are funded to reverse the damage caused by a decade of austerity.

“The system is broken, it needs reviewed, and there’s a huge job to ensure that our services are fit-for-purpose because at the minute it’s not.”

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SDLP councillor Brian Tierney said that MLAs refused listen to then-Health Minister, Robin Swann, and “ran through a budget that tells us there will be painful cuts”.

“When you have a Health Minister telling his Executive colleagues it isn’t enough then we have a problem,” he said. “Because there’s not enough money, so we need to understand the implications of those cuts for this area.”

DUP Alderman Keith Kerrigan argued that the Government had to balance the budget with “only so much to go round”.

“What are you going to cut and what other departments aren’t going to get that money?” Alderman Kerrigan asked. “We’re consistently complaining about the state of the roads and education needs, and there are needs right across the board.”

Andrew Balfour,

Local Democracy Reporter