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Loss of Nursing Posts

Part of Private Members’ Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 5:00 pm on 20th April 2009.

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Photo of Iris Robinson Iris Robinson DUP 5:00 pm, 20th April 2009

I beg to move

That this Assembly calls on the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to reject plans to cut 722 nursing posts, given his pledge to the Assembly to make efficiencies rather than cuts, and to re-direct resources towards front line patient services.

The amendment seems to ignore the fact that the efficiency targets are demanded by the Treasury and are non-negotiable, even if we wish to make special dispensations. Efficiency savings are supposed to be about doing things better, not about getting rid of key facilities. Waste, bureaucracy and poor performance have to be tackled.

Unfortunately, the Minister’s response to the need to meet efficiency targets has been to punish the community by enforcing stringent cuts on front line services and attempting to palm the blame off on other people. Recent events have shown that Mr McGimpsey’s smoke and mirrors routine of trying to claim credit for all that is good about his Department’s performance, while trying to blame everyone else for controversial or unpopular decisions, has run its course. It is of no further use, and the Minister stands before us exposed as lacking the imagination or determination to deliver, in a real and meaningful way, on the efficiency agenda. The Health Minister can no longer have his cake and eat it.

A Department that spends millions of pounds on travel expenses should not be threatening to put older people out of their homes; a Department that wastes millions of pounds on bonuses and artwork should not be threatening more than 700 nurses with the axe; and a Department whose postage costs £7 million is not beyond efficiency savings.

I saw a recent press release from a Member making disparaging comments about our call for efficiencies in that area. That is exactly the sort of closed-mindedness that I am talking about. If we do not start looking for efficiencies in this bloated bureaucracy, it will inevitably lead to the cuts in front line services that the Minister has put forward.

The Minister hailed the budgetary allocation awarded to his Department as a great success. Members will remember that debate, because prior to that the Minister had washed his hands of accepting the Budget allocations in the first round. He made great play over not having his fingerprints on the allocation in the first round.

On 22 January 2008, when the final Budget had been agreed by all the Ministers of the four parties, Mr McGimpsey said in a press statement:

“The final budget allocation is a good news story for the Health Service. … in light of the financial circumstances facing the Executive, I believe it is the best outcome possible.”

He puffed out his chest and claimed that he had done a great job. Indeed, his party colleagues slapped him on the back for his claim to have gained extra money. That being the case, they cannot now adopt the position claiming that health should be immune from the need for efficiencies, or that more than 700 nurses need to be axed because of spending plans forced on the Minister by malevolent outsiders. Either the Minister got a good deal or he did not. He cannot have it both ways.

Recent history has shown that Mr McGimpsey has undergone a remarkable, rapid transformation from the Bevanite, cradle-to-the-grave, Minister — and every other cliché he has deployed to describe himself — to the Minister for cuts. Gone is the man who welcomed the president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to his party conference; to be replaced by axe-man McGimpsey, cutting away at our front line health services.

On 2 May 2008, he said —