A practising GP has said the extra money for the Northern Irish NHS is useful, but that the whole system needs to be overhauled – or we will be “back to square one”.
Dr John Kyle, who is also a PUP councillor for east Belfast, hailed the news that £50m per year (continuing for two years), is to be spent on “immediate pressures in health and education” as part of the DUP/Tory pact.
It is likely that one area this will tackle will be the dire situation around health waiting lists.
Just last month it was revealed that waiting time targets had been missed in six out of the seven health categories which officials had examined.
Dr Kyle said: “£50m over two years is obviously to be welcomed, but will not fully address the stresses and strains of the deficit we’re functioning under.
“If you’re looking down the line and it just was £50m this year and £50m next year, then within four years you’ll be back to square one.”
This is an echo of comments by ex-health minister Michael McGimpsey in 2015, when he told the News Letter that a £40m cash injection to sort out spiralling waiting lists was “by no stretch of the imagination satisfactory”, given that the total health budget was roughly £4.5bn.
Dr Kyle added: “What is to be more welcomed is the £100m for the transformation of the NHS. That’s absolutely essential.”
This is a reference to another part of the Tory/DUP pact - £100m per year, for two years, to support the Northern Ireland Executive’s “health service transformation”.
He said the current health system “is unsustainable – both the money is insufficient and the systems that are in place are not coping with the demand”.
He said whilst any future changes have yet to be mapped out, it is likely they will involve a “centralisation of services”.
He imagines some hospitals might potentially have to close, and healthcare would increasingly be delivered in people’s homes.
There is also a “pressing need” for more resources to be put towards GPs, he said.
Help for ‘Cinderalla service’
In addition to the sums above, there is also a sum of £10m per year, for five years, for mental health services as part of the Tory/DUP deal.
Dr Kyle said one possible use for some of the money might be restarting FASA – the Northern Irish anti-drug organisation which ran aground amid financial problems last year.
“I think that addiction services need to be strengthened, we need to put more resources into that,” he said.
“But we also need to be looking at preventative measures – giving support to children and adolescent mental health services, which are really starved of funds and are the Cinderella really of the health service... neglected, and under-resourced.”