Robin Swann launches broadside against political rivals over health service reforms

Robin Swann has launched a broadside against political rivals, warning that “petty point scoring” could derail efforts to reform the health service.

Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 9:55 pm
Updated Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 10:00 pm
Health Minister Robin Swann

The Health Minister was responding to an Assembly debate on the future of Downe Area Hospital.

Mr Swann insisted there was no threat of closure hanging over the hospital, which has seen A&E services stood down during the pandemic. He criticised local representatives for suggesting the hospital’s future was at risk.

He used his speech to make a wider point about plans for restructuring health service provision in Northern Ireland.

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The minister said the debate on the issue often financial realities, with MLAs calling for investment in particularly areas without outlining where the money should come from.

“Politics and especially political grandstanding must not become a threat to our health service,” he said.

“By that, I mean easy option politics, short termism, bad politics, politics that is interested only in point scoring and landing a headline in the media.”

Mr Swann questioned why no other party had volunteered to take on the health portfolio when Stormont was restored in January 2020.

He added: “Barely a day goes by without an MLA calling on me to significantly increase spending in a key area.

Mr Swann said many of the causes championed were very worthy.

“But rarely if ever do I hear suggestions as to where I would get this extra funding from,” he said.

“The impression is given that funding is unlimited and that I just need to be persuaded to spend more of it on a particular area.

“Of course, the actual reality is that funding is very limited. Indeed, at present, it is an increasing struggle just to maintain our existing services.

“I am also worried about petty, point scoring politics when it comes to the vital task of reforming and transforming our struggling health service.”

Mr Swann cautioned about having political conversations that deal with individual hospitals in isolation.

“It is easy enough for parties across this house to endorse the general principles that change is needed,” he said.

“It is a different matter when specific changes are proposed at local level. That’s when the temptation proves too strong for some to grab some headlines, to proclaim grand conspiracy theories about the future for individual hospital sites.

“Let me be clear. There is no plan, hidden or otherwise, to close, downgrade or run down any hospital in Northern Ireland.

“That does not mean that every single hospital will remain frozen in time. It does not mean that all services will be delivered in exactly the same way until the end of time.”

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