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That extra money ensured that I was able to introduce essential service developments such as bowel cancer screening and an extension to breast screening programmes, to name but a few of those developments that will transform, and save, lives.
It is true that described the final Budget settlement as being as good as it could get at that time; however, I also said that it is still not enough, and I will continue to fight for more.
At a time of recession, when so many people are struggling with financial pressures and unemployment is rising, the demands on our Health Service will increase. Now is the time for investment. Without adequate funding, how else can we address the years of historic underfunding of our health and social care systems? How else can we begin to close the £600 million funding gap between Northern Ireland and England? How else can we ensure that people in Northern Ireland have the same access to health-care as is the case in the rest of the UK?
Let me make it absolutely clear: I am not arguing that the Health Service should not be attempting to make efficiency savings. Rather, given that the needs of my Department are so much greater, I ask why we are being asked to do so much in such a short period of time. We simply cannot give anymore; there is no slack in the system. Indeed, Dr William McCrea recently sent me a letter in relation to this matter, in which he asked me to apprise him of the extent of the proposed cuts. Furthermore, he expressed his support for the views of his constituents in asking that the National Health Service be exempt from the Executive’s comprehensive spending review. [Interruption.] That is a letter from a sincere individual who is not playing politics. The date on the letter is 30 March 2009.
Why do the sick and needy have to pay for years of underfunding of our Health Service? After all, when it comes to health, we are dealing with people’s lives. It is time for everyone to face up to their responsibilities. It is not as if I have not warned everyone of the difficulties that the Health Service faces in trying to make those efficiency savings.
Yes; in respect of our capacity, we are managing at the moment. However, we are at our limit. If we are to continue to protect the quality of care that is provided, we cannot give any more — we must get real. The debate is not just about numbers of nurses; it is about the healthcare of our current population and that of future generations. I would like more time to deliver those changes, but I do not have it.
As Minister, I am determined to do the right thing, to reform and to modernise in order to deliver the services that people need. Those are the criteria against which I will consider these proposals. I will also consider the remarks made by Members today.