UUP and SDLP want MLAs to be recalled to discuss crisis in health

Peter Robinson  accompanied by Edwin Poots.
Peter Robinson accompanied by Edwin Poots.

MLAs should return from their holidays to discuss the growing financial crisis in the health service, the UUP and SDLP have said.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said that the Executive needed to meet to discuss the funding shortfall which has already led to service cuts.

Party Leader Peter Robinson and Edwin Poots.

Party Leader Peter Robinson and Edwin Poots.

As Health Minister Edwin Poots again made clear that he will not allow the cuts to his department’s budget unless the Executive as a whole votes for them, Mr Nesbitt said: “I am well aware that this is a proper crisis that needs to be met with a proper political response.”

SDLP MLA Ferghal McKinney said that he had asked the clerk of the Health Committee and the committee chairman to “formally request that a meeting be held as soon as possible and that invites be extended to both Health Minister Edwin Poots and Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride”.

Yesterday the News Letter revealed that John Compton, who was until March Northern Ireland’s most senior health official, had come out of retirement in April to warn Martin McGuinness of the perilous state of the health budget.

Yesterday Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd denied DUP claims that Mr McGuinness blocked extra money for health and he insisted that his party had not demanded that the original £40 million which the finance minister wanted to give to the health department was halved to £20 million.

Mr Poots said that he had not “cried wolf” about health funding in previous years but that he now desperately needed funding for the health service.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show yesterday Mr Poots also played down suggestions of a rift with DUP colleague Simon Hamilton.

Last month the finance minister sharply criticised Mr Poots’ department’s budgeting. Mr Poots said that he took responsibility for the over-spend in his department last year and said that he had, against the advice of his most senior official, insisted that the department over-spend rather than cancel surgery last year.

But he added: “I think the civil servants decided to have a little go at each other within the statement on the monitoring round...I think that was largely a civil service thing but I have no apologies to make for ensuring that thousands of people received surgery who otherwise wouldn’t have received that surgery.”

Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay said that raised questions about whether the DUP’s ministers were in control of their departments or merely signed off statements that civil servants gave to them.

When asked where there had been public support for him from Peter Robinson, Mr Poots said: “At all times, the DUP have been supportive of my position on health.”

Meanwhile, UUP MLA Ross Hussey has called for Stormont’s Public Accounts Committee to examine how the percentage of the health budget going to private companies has soared in recent years.