O’Neill’s £31m health plan ‘wishful thinking’

Jim Wells MLA �Edward Byrne Photography INNL1542
Jim Wells MLA �Edward Byrne Photography INNL1542

The extra £31 million Health Minister Michelle O’Neill says is needed to tackle waiting lists isn’t enough, according to a former minister.

Mrs O’Neill, the new Sinn Féin leader in Northern Ireland, meanwhile, said she has written to all party leaders requesting support for her six-point ‘elective care plan’.

The plan, announced on Tuesday, aims to ensure no one is forced to wait more than a year for appointments.

Former health minister Jim Wells described it as “wishful thinking”.

“I honestly think that £31 million, whilst obviously extra money is very welcome, I just can’t see it being enough,” he told the News Letter.

“Health service costs are rising at six per cent and inflation is rising by two per cent so the only way you can control expenditure is to lengthen waiting lists. The only quick way to cut down waiting lists is to use state money in the private sector.”

He added: “Even the £31 million comes with a caveat – it is £31 million subject to budgetary approval – but the reality is that Sinn Féin have brought the Assembly down so there’s no budget and there’s no mechanism for it at the minute. It is a bit of wishful thinking that even the £31 million will be forthcoming.”

Mrs O’Neill, however, said she is writing to party leaders so that political consensus “will remove any ambiguity around this allocation of the £31.2m” and “provide clear political direction for the Department of Finance permanent secretary in the event that political agreement is not achieved before the end of March.”