The Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety was again keen to stress the catastrophic potential consequences on the departmental health budget as a result of welfare reform penalties during today’s question time. The cut in funds could see serious implications such as “a pay constraint on hard-working staff, a reduction in the range or standard of services offered, the introduction of additional charges or co-payments for services and longer waiting times for scheduled care”. The Minister added that “the failure to agree welfare reform is unforgivable, as the financial penalties being imposed by the Treasury are surely better directed at meeting the real and pressing health and social care needs of some of the most vulnerable people in our society”.
The Minister also provided an update on the access to cancer drugs in Northern Ireland. In 2013-2014, £26.7m was spent on cancer drugs (not including other treatments such as radiotherapy). The Health and Social Care Board has informed the Minister that 98% of applications for unapproved drugs are accepted and more has been spent on branded drugs in the last three years meaning that we are not giving as much to pharmaceutical companies and are delivering more on the ground – removing from generic to branded drugs has the support of the Assembly.
Mr Poots also answered questions on the GP out-of-hours framework, healthcare providers to the armed forces, accident prevention initiatives and the Early Intervention Transformation Programme. Regular oral questions were followed by a fifteen minute period of topical questions which included questions on legal highs, prescription charges and cancer drug trials.