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Political distrust is a very unpleasant commodity. The political distrust that lies behind a whole string of DUP motions in the Assembly is clear for the entire electorate to see. For the DUP Finance Minister to impose 3% efficiency savings on the Health Service here and then for Mrs Robinson, the DUP Chairperson of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, to lead a series of debates criticising the Health Minister when he tries to implement those efficiency savings is a deeply cynical thing to do.
This is playing political games with difficult decisions that affect people’s lives and only demonstrates the failure of partnership Government, rather than the efficient discharge of the scrutiny function rightly placed with the Assembly Committees. Bringing endless political point-scoring debates to the Floor of the Assembly — with the name of Chairperson of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety appended to them — fatally undermines the partnership that should exist between the Committee and the Minister; a partnership that is designed to procure the best results for patients and users of the Health Service.
Unfortunately, such petty political point-scoring is what we in the other parties have come to expect from the so-called lead party of Government. To the ordinary voter, of whom I am one, it simply looks like a political set-up or game — cut the Minister’s money and then criticise him every time he tries to make efficiencies.
Frankly, the scale of the problems that face us in the Budget, public spending, job protection and creation are so great that this kind of political distrust that the DUP indulges in is deeply damaging to the whole process and credibility of government here. It is about as far away from statesmanship, and giving real and responsible leadership, as one can get. This is coming from a party that is playing politics when real leadership is needed, a party that has failed to recognise what even the dogs in the street know — that there is a hole in the Executive’s finances that the DUP Finance Minister has failed to deal with for the past seven months.
That is why I strongly support the amendment that my honourable friend John McCallister proposed today. It reflects the realities of the situation in the Health Service, and not the ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ events that the Chairperson of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety presented.
There have been years of underfunding in health and social care, and there is already a £600 million funding gap between Northern Ireland and England. We need almost £300 million per annum to make our services match those delivered in England and another £300 million to match the investment that those services will receive this year and next.