SF abstentionism ‘will mean £70m NHS cuts’

Christopher Stalford, DUP MLA for South Belfast
Christopher Stalford, DUP MLA for South Belfast

The DUP say £70 million worth of cuts Northern Ireland health trusts must make over the next seven months is the result of Sinn Féin’s “abstentionism”.

The £10m per month cuts were confirmed by the Department of Health yesterday.

Each of Northern Ireland’s five Health and Social Care Trusts announced an ‘extraordinary meeting of the Board of Directors’ to take place at five various offices on Thursday, where they are expected to outline their plan to make savings.

The cuts, said DUP MLA Christopher Stalford, are the result of Sinn Fein’s “refusal to form an Executive”.

The annual spending for Northern Ireland health department — along with all the other departments — is usually agreed in an overall annual budget in around December or January, covering the financial year beginning in April.

However, amid the ongoing political crisis at Stormont, no budget was agreed.

In March, civil servants – not ministers – took charge of the running of departments because no government had been established.

With no budget drawn up and no government in place by April 24, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire drafted his own “indicative budget” for how money should be spent over 2017/18.

A funding package agreed by the DUP as part of their ‘confidence and supply’ deal with the Conservative Party at Westminster, meanwhile, cannot be used to address immediate budgetary pressures, according to Mr Brokenshire.

The Secretary of State has already made clear that “a restored Executive will need to agree how it wishes to allocate these funds”.

Indeed, the wording of the confidence and supply agreement between the DUP and the Tories states that an additional £50 million per year for two years is to “enable the Executive” to address immediate pressure in health and education.

DUP MLA Christopher Stalford, speaking about the £70 million cuts, laid the blame squarely at Sinn Féin’s door. He said: “Everyone is agreed that our healthcare system needs major reform and there is cross-party agreement on the process to deliver that. However, Sinn Fein’s Stormont abstentionism is blocking this reform and is hurting the public.”

Mr Stalford added: “The DUP secured extra funding for Northern Ireland following the agreement with the Conservative Party at Westminster. We want to see those funds benefiting the people of Northern Ireland as soon as possible.”

UUP MLA Roy Beggs said: “When our already sizeable waiting lists and our hard working staff are under pressure, an additional cut will no doubt be painful.”

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said: “These cuts make an already bad situation worse.”