19 May 2015

Question Time: Health, Social Services and Public Safety Monday 18 May 2015


Simon Hamilton faced his first Question Time as Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety and was asked about the Health budget and what his plans for funding are in the June monitoring round. Mr Hamilton described the 2015-16 budget as “exceptionally challenging” with “no funding to invest in a range of new service developments”. The Minister intends to bid for funding to avoid service consequences and provide additional services and treatments for patients. These include critical front line services in elective care, mental health, learning disability, specialist drugs, children’s services, Transforming Your Care, public health and unscheduled care. The Minister is concerned about the development of new services given that there is still £30-40m worth of unfunded pressures currently in the system (despite £160m of efficiencies already implemented). Mr Hamilton also conceded that the system as a whole may be in need of review saying, “I believe that we do need to make transformations in the way we deliver the services that our citizens require. There will be change, and sometimes that change will require difficult decisions.

Claire Sugden asked the Minister if he has any plans to increase the number of NI Ambulance Service (NIAS) personnel given the reliance on private ambulance services. Mr Hamilton disagreed that the NIAS rely on private ambulance services arguing that they are only used in exceptional circumstances such as the recent industrial action over the last few months. Even then, they were only employed for non-emergency calls so as to protect the capacity for NIAS staff to respond to 999 calls. There are currently 94 vacancies in the NIAS, mostly for emergency medical technicians. The Minister is confident that once these posts are filled (and 90 posts are currently awaiting the result of offers) the pressure on the service will be alleviated and will assist any concerns over current ambulance response times.

The Minister also answered questions on treatments for heart attack patients and the ban on blood donations from gay men. During the period for topical questions Mr Hamilton continued to answer Members queries on GP training places, residential care homes and home accident prevention.