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Loss of Nursing Posts

Part of Private Members’ Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 6:30 pm on 20th April 2009.

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Photo of Alex Easton Alex Easton DUP 6:30 pm, 20th April 2009

No, you would not do it for me, so tough.

On close examination, the amendment reads:

“to review proposals from health and social care trusts to reduce nursing posts”.

The amendment does not guarantee those nursing jobs; it only seeks a review. Furthermore, it asks the Executive to accept:

“that the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is exempt from the comprehensive spending review”.

Is the Ulster Unionist Party asking us to break the law and go against the directive from Westminster, which we had no choice but to accept? What is equally amazing is that the Ulster Unionist Party is asking us to go against its own Health Minister, who supported the Budget in the Executive, stating that he was satisfied with the Budget and that it was a good day for health in Northern Ireland.

Even if we were legally allowed to exempt the health budget from the comprehensive spending review, what would that mean? It would mean that all the efficiency savings identified by the Minister would not have happened and that all the extra money he was given would not have been given. It would mean that the Minister would not get first refusal on the first £20 million handed back, which amounts to an extra £60 million over three years. No other Department gets that extra money, and failing to get it would mean that the Minister would not have been able to announce all those new services, including free prescriptions.

Those new services came about as a result of record investment and the size of the budget that the Minister got, and that would not have happened if the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety had been exempt from the comprehensive spending review. Before the Northern Ireland Assembly was up and running, the health budget was £3·982 billion. By the end of the three-year Budget period, it will be £4·491 billion, which is £500 million more for health — a record investment in health in Northern Ireland.

The amendment from Tweedledum and Tweedledee is a smokescreen; it cannot be done. If it could be done, the other Departments would have to find savings to make up for the shortfall; DSD would have to stop benefits, and there would be no money for community groups; DARD would have no money for grants for farmers; DRD would have no money to repair roads; DEL would have to close colleges — I am sure that the Ulster Unionist Party would not want their Minister to have to do that — and DCAL would have to stop money for community events.

In tabling the amendment, the UUP has shown itself to be financially inept and financially unstable. It is no wonder that the Ulster Unionist Party is in so much debt and almost broke. When one looks at the state of the finances that Basil McCrea received from the Assembly, one will see that he had to fire some of his own staff because of his financial ineptitude. Let us get real; let us save the nursing jobs.

I will try to get through some of the points that were raised during the debate. On the one hand, Sammy Gardiner praised the extra money, but, on the other, he wanted to do away with the extra money by doing away with the comprehensive spending review. I would be glad to see him coming through the Lobbies with us to support the motion.

Tommy Gallagher said that the Health Minister should speak to the Minister of Finance and Personnel. However, I submitted a question for written answer in which I asked whether the Health Minister had raised the subject of efficiency savings on nursing and residential care homes, and I was informed that he has not even raised it in the Executive; he has not even bothered to do so. That shows you what the Minister thinks of nursing jobs and residential homes. He has not even bothered to raise the issue at the Executive.

Minister McGimpsey complained about all the parties supporting the comprehensive spending review, which he supported. It is a pity that the Minister was not concerned enough about the nursing positions to raise them at the Executive.

I did not take any notes on Basil McCrea’s contribution, because I do not think that he was talking about health.

John McCallister said that the DUP was opposed to the new health agency. When debating the Health and Social Care (Reform) Bill, DUP members did not oppose a new health agency; we wanted to keep it within the new regional board.