A large chunk of funding which was supposed to be used to curb waiting list times at the Province’s hospitals was never actually spent for that purpose.
The UUP said the revelation that £18.5m out of a £40m pot of cash aimed at reducing health queues had not been used accordingly was “absolutely abhorrent”.
The full amount of extra healthcare funding announced at the time was £47.6m.
The then-health minister Simon Hamilton stated that £40m of this money would go “specifically to tackling waiting lists”.
Now Tom Elliott, UUP MP for Fermangh and South Tyrone, has revealed that this did not happen, after writing to the Department of Health.
He had penned an e-mail to the health minister (currently Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill) in mid-July, asking for confirmation of where the money had gone.
The response – which came more than two months after he had written to her – said that “not all of the £40m element of the £47.6m allocated in November 2015 to address waiting list pressures was utilised on waiting lists due to the tight timescales within which this funding had to be used”.
The department added that only £21.5m was spent specifically on waiting lists (plus another £3.4m “from within baselines”) – leaving a sum of £18.5m unspent.
The whole £40m sum was supposed to allow up to 15,000 extra operations and treatments to be progressed, and Mr Hamilton had stated at the time: “It is the start of a long journey to get waiting times back to an acceptable position and will need further additional funding to ensure success, but we are beginning to head in the right direction.”
But rather than being directed at waiting lists as originally intended, the department said this remaining £18.5m instead went towards “a range of pressures in 2015/16” such as GP out-of-hours services.
The UUP said it had been “redirected to plug the gap on other pressures in the health service”.
Mr Elliott said: “I find that shocking, not least because the crisis in our waiting lists continues to deteriorate.
“There will be many thousands of people waiting for treatment who will find this revelation that almost half of the £40m couldn’t be spent because it came too late absolutely abhorrent.”
Health Minister O’Neill said: “I understand the worry and the concern that long waiting times can cause for patients and for families.
“Performance has not been strong enough in many many areas but I am committed to dealing with that problem because that’s what you do in government.”