Question Time: Health, Social Services and Public Safety 17 November 2014

Cutbacks in the health service dominated Questions to the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Jim Wells MLA. In particular, great concern was expressed about the recent decision by the Northern Trust to remove multiple sclerosis respite services from Dalriada hospital until March 2015. The Minister said that his key priorities for the Health and Social Care sector are that services are “safe and effective and to ensure that the Department achieves financial balance”.

Mr Wells “regrets that the (Northern) Trust has had to take this action as a result of budget pressures” but it would not be possible to maintain the current level of service provision in the absence of the extra £130m worth of funding required. The Northern Trust will still provide respite services and honour all bookings made in November.

The Minister maintained that he “is not taking this decision lightly” and made a commitment to undertake full consultation on the issue and meet with all stakeholders involved. He affirmed that “I am not going into this decision blind and take it very, very seriously”. In reference to the significant financial pressures being put on the Department to balance its budget by the end of March 2015, Mr Wells challenged the other Members to come up with an alternative solution that would be more acceptable to their community saying that “everyone’s decrying the fact that the Northern Trust’s come up with this decision but nobody has suggested any alternative to it”.

The Minister answered further questions with the common thread of cutbacks and budget balancing including the effect of cuts on accident and emergency services, domiciliary care packages and the closure of minor injuries units in Whiteabbey, Armagh and Bangor. Mr Wells was keen to emphasise the significant financial pressures and consequent difficult decisions facing his Department, describing the process as “fire-fighting” as he attempts to balance the budget before the end of the financial year.

You can read the full transcript on our website.

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