Expect even longer hospital waiting lists after 'piecemeal' budget: BMA
The doctors’ representative body said emergency departments, access to GPs, ambulance services and cancer care will all be negatively impacted as a result of a funding package that will leave staff “trying to hold the system together”.
BMA NI Council chair Dr Tom Black said that while the £7.3 billion allocated to health spending in Northern Ireland is welcome, it is “lamentable that it is not being locally set, that it is presented weeks into the new financial year and that it once again is only for one year, making any long term planning for health impossible”.
Responding to the budget announcement made by NI Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, Dr Black said: “We have repeatedly said that we need a multi-year budget to underpin any attempt to transform or more realistically save our health service.
"A piecemeal approach serves no-one and given the lack of any significant uplift in funding announced today there is no doubt that there will be a major impact felt by patients on the services they receive and the staff trying to hold the system together.”
“We have a workload crisis, a workforce crisis and now a funding crisis where we will see a deterioration in services for patients in hospital care and general practice. It will become more difficult to make an appointment for your GP, more difficult to access ambulance services, longer waits for ED and longer waits for outpatients and inpatients.
"Patients on waiting lists who need operations will have to wait longer and it will be more difficult to achieve waiting time targets for cancer services."
Dr Black added: “The impact will be right across the NHS in Northern Ireland; patients will feel they have no alternative but to access services by paying privately. This is not acceptable in a developed country. We need a properly funded and run health system. We have had so many opportunities to address the problems and structures in our health service and create a system than meets the needs of patients and doctors, but nothing has changed.”
A body representing unpaid carers in Northern Ireland said its members would face even greater levels of exhaustion as a result of the budget – and a health and social care system “on its knees”.
Craig Harrison, policy and public affairs manager for Carers NI, said: “This health budget will fill unpaid carers with dread. The health and social care system is on its knees and the funding being provided to the Department of Health in today’s budget is unlikely to be sufficient to improve that dire position and respond to growing demand, never mind delivering the reform so desperately needed.
"We’ve seen consistently that when the health service doesn’t have the resources it needs, more and more pressure is heaped on unpaid carers to cover the gaps, and there’s a very real prospect of that happening yet again as a result of this budget.
"That would drive carers to levels of breaking point and exhaustion even higher than those we're already seeing every day.”
Mr Harrison said: “These public spending allocations should be being made by local ministers based on local priorities, not the NIO. There is support for delivering a better deal for unpaid carers from parties in every corner of the Assembly, but that won’t translate into meaningful change so long as the chairs around the Executive table remain empty.
"Having the institutions back won’t solve all of our problems overnight, but it is an irreplaceable step in creating and funding the health and social care system that patients and their unpaid carers here deserve.”
Also responding to the budget announcement, Ann Watt of the independent think tank Pivotal described the scale of the challenge facing all of Northern Ireland’s departments at Stormont as “enormous”.
She said: “Overall, Northern Ireland departments are dealing with a budget that is the same as last year but, with inflation at 10%, this will mean serious funding shortfalls in real terms. Severe cuts to services are inevitable. Department of Health has been prioritised in the allocations between departments, but even its settlement is not more than flat in cash terms".