The head of the Department of Health at Stormont has said a £20 million budget deficit faced by health and social care trusts is only a “small part of the escalating pressures and demands”.
Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly confirmed the deficit but warned that “competing demands and pressures” could add “hundreds of millions” to the budget.
The civil servant currently tasked with running the health department in the absence of a minister called for a “society-wide converstaion on budgetary priorities”.
In a speech to a Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy conference at the Stormont Hotel, Mr Pengelly said: “It’s now in the public domain that our health and social care trusts are facing a projected £20 million deficit this financial year.
“While intensive work will continue to ensure their books are balanced, the reality is that the projected deficit represents only a small part of the escalating pressures and demands we are facing in the months and years ahead.
“Why wouldn’t I want to reduce waiting lists, increase pay for hard-pressed staff and reduce the pressure on those staff by recruiting and training more colleagues?
“The truth is I simply can’t afford to do all these things – in fact, I can’t afford to do all the things we currently do.”
Mr Pengelly continued: “It is why we need a society-wide conversation on budgetary priorities and how best to use the limited resources we have.
“In the next year alone, the competing demands and pressures could between them add hundreds of millions to an already very stretched health budget.”