Trade union Unison has lashed out at Health Minister Edwin Poots over his proposal to charge patients who request A&E treatment as a result of drug or alcohol abuse.
Mr Poots has recently provided extra resources to reduce long waiting lists in casualty departments after persistent concerns being expressed about pressures by staff.
Patricia McKeown, Regional Secretary of Unison said: “This latest cheap shot publicity from Health Minister Edwin Poots is a further indication that our health service is not safe in his hands. It is time for him to step down.
Many of his pronouncements to date simply underscore his desire to introduce charging for health care. This is political dogma and has nothing to do with the delivery of safe, high quality universal health care.”
She pointed out “multi-million pound expenditure” by the minister on accountancy firms and private consultancy for his ‘Transforming Your Care’ proposals, tiers of health administration such as the current Regional Health Board, the Patient Client Council and six separate Trusts, private medical firms and the private home care sector.
“It would be more to the point if the minister would fight his corner with the Executive to secure the return of swinging budget cuts suffered by our health service since 2007,” she added.
However Mr Poots’ party colleague Jim Wells hit back, saying that 80pc of patients in A&E departments on weekend nights are there because of alcohol and drug abuse.
He said there was also a rising tide of liver disease linked to alcohol abuse and complained that it was now cheaper to buy alcohol from supermarkets than water.
Minister Poots prompted the debate by proposing qualifications to the traditional policy of providing National Health Service care.
He said: “The United Kingdom has a great principle of health care, free at the point of need to all who need it irrespective of their ability to pay for it.
“I think it is a wonderful principle but I think on occasions it is abused and we sometimes need to look at how we can make sure that abuse doesn’t take place.”