The DUP has denied that a pledge of £40m to curb health waiting lists had been a pre-election “stunt”, after it emerged that close to half the money was not spent for that purpose.
=A former Ulster Unionist MLA said that Simon Hamilton – the ex-DUP health minister who became economy minister this May – had “mismanaged” the funding, which he had announced six months ahead of the May 2016 Assembly election.
Whilst it was publicly declared that the £40m was “directly” and “specifically” to be used for tackling waiting lists, it emerged on Tuesday just £21.5m of it was spent on that.
The rest was re-directed to a string of other NHS areas like GP out-of-hours services.
The department said the money could not all be spent on waiting lists due to “the tight timescales within which this funding had to be used”.
Nonetheless, as late as March 2016, Mr Hamilton had spoken of “the investment of £40m” in an official announcement concerning waiting lists.
Former UUP health minister Michael McGimpsey had said last November that, given the scale of the waiting list problem, an extra £40m was “by no stretch of the imagination satisfactory”.
He told the News Letter on Wednesday: “£40m wasn’t going to fix the waiting lists, but they didn’t even spend that on it...
“I think it just shows financial mis-management, and undertakings that they didn’t live up to – these promises were made pre-election, and they weren’t delivered.”
The health department had been in DUP hands from 2011 until May 2016, and Mr McGimpsey said new Sinn Fein health minister Michelle O’Neill must now make a “supreme effort” to improve it.
Paula Bradley, the DUP chair of Stormont’s health committee, was asked by Stephen Nolan on his BBC Radio Ulster show whether she would apologise on behalf of party colleague Mr Hamilton, over the fact just under 54% of the £40m was spent on waiting lists as intended.
“I don’t feel that I have to apologise,” she said.
“There were many, many people were seen, many people were taken off that waiting list, and many people were treated for various issues that they had.”
Responding to UUP man Roy Beggs’ on-air accusation that the £40m announcement had been a pre-election “stunt”, she said:
“Absolutely not; not when you look at that over half of the money was spent to reduce waiting lists... Absolutely nothing to do with elections.”