Great concern for the current financial pressures faced by the Department of Health was expressed during today’s Questions to the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Edwin Poots. Mr Poots warned that his Department “faces a considerable financial challenge in 2014-15, with some £160 million of additional resources estimated to be required in order to balance the books”. This funding gap exists despite additional Executive funding and demanding saving plans put in place by the Department. A number of bids have been made in the June monitoring round and the Minister urges that “the Executive lend their support to this critical investment in health and social care services”. Mr Poots added that further pressure has been applied by the request to find a further £50m to fund penalties arising from the stalling Welfare Reform Bill.
Paul Girvan also asked the Minister about investment in the nursing profession. The ‘Delivering Care: Nurse Staffing Levels in NI’ tool is being used to assess current staffing levels, reduce the need for agency nurses and enhance the role of ward sisters. The Department is also increasing training programmes and reviewing the nursing and midwifery workforce in order to create a workforce plan that will ensure it is fit for purpose for the next five years. The Minister has also met with representatives of the Royal College of Nursing to identify and address all their concerns.
The Minister also answered questions on the recent payroll issues affecting the Health Service, the ‘Blueprint for Change’ report which looks at the future of social work and on current innovations in the Health Service. During topical questions Mr Poots also fielded Members’ queries on the prospect of Health Department jobs in Coleraine, concern over the legal high, Speckled Red, and the impact of the Mental Health Capacity Bill for under-16s.