Top medical advisor offers a stark warning over risks of health cuts

Stormont health minister Edwin Poots
Stormont health minister Edwin Poots

More people could be waiting in pain for treatment if NHS cuts in Northern Ireland go ahead, the chief medical officer has warned.

Cancer services, stroke prevention and drugs for chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis may be threatened by the £140 million deficit this year.

Health Minister Edwin Poots

Health Minister Edwin Poots

Sinn Fein and the DUP wrangled over reallocation of Executive funds, and health minister Edwin Poots has said he cannot impose the resulting spending cuts.

Fines are being imposed by the Treasury because of Sinn Fein and the DUP’s failure to agree on welfare reform.

Mr Poots’ top medical adviser Dr Michael McBride told a meeting of the Stormont health committee today that a litany of services may be hit as a result.

“If these decisions are taken more people will be waiting for NICE-approved (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) drugs and having to develop a waiting list.”

He added: “That is people waiting in pain and people developing complications potentially if these situations materialise. Those complications will ultimately be more costly.”

Sinn Fein is refusing to endorse welfare reforms because of concern about the effect on the most vulnerable.

This has resulted in the Westminster coalition, which argues the reforms are intended to help reduce benefit dependency, withdrawing money from the block grant which funds the Province’s public services.

Speaking at the committee, Mr Poots said he had managed his budget as best he could, and accused Sinn Fein of undermining the NHS via its stance on welfare.

He said: “The position of your party is hurting innocent people, it is hurting people who need care and it is hurting people who work in the health system.”

He added: “I am putting it to the assembly that we need to ensure that we make the right decisions in and around health and if your party’s priority is welfare stand up and say that. My party will have the priority of health and I won’t shirk away from that.”

Dr McBride said some potential ramifications of cutting the health budget were:

:: Screening for thousands of people for stroke danger signs may not go ahead.

:: Cancer services helping treat those with blood poisoning could be affected.

:: It will impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of services envisaged to improve under the Transforming Your Care measures.

Mr Poots said: “It is not scaremongering, it is a factual analysis of those areas where expenditure has not yet been committed”.

Ms McLaughlin, health committee chairwoman, halted Dr McBride as he listed the implications of the budget cuts, and told the minister: “This current scenario is a mess, there are clearly very real questions in relation to the management of your budget.”