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In rising to support the motion, I make it clear from the outset that my party will neither give credence to nor support the amendment. It is one of the most ludicrous and ill-thought-out amendments that I have ever seen brought to the Floor of the House. It contradicts everything that the Minister has said previously.
Of course, that is nothing new from a party for which “delivery” is not a word in its vocabulary. To suggest, as the amendment does, that the Minister should review health trusts’ proposals to reduce nursing posts rather than reject totally plans to cut 722 nursing jobs, as is demanded by my party’s motion, beggars belief. The Assembly now has clear evidence that that party speaks with a forked tongue: it sings from two entirely different hymn sheets.
I remind the Minister and his party that he has, on several occasions, given his pledge, both to the Health Committee and on the Floor of the House, that efficiency savings in his Department would not affect front line services. On 10 February 2009, the Minister reiterated his position in the House when he said:
“Let me make it clear — efficiency savings are not cuts. That is why, when I became Minister, I considered, and threw out, what had been proposed under direct rule”. — [Official Report, Vol 37, No 6, p315, col 2].
If the Minister is true to his word, he will have no alternative but to reject outright any plans to cut 722 nursing posts. The message from nursing staff in hospitals across Northern Ireland is crystal clear — they are already overstretched and under pressure. All Members will agree that nurses provide front line services to patients at bedsides or in the community. Therefore, the suggestion of reviewing the trusts’ proposals to reduce those front line staff flies in the face of any previous commitments or promises that the Minister gave to the House.