Budget Bill: Second Stage

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 7:45 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Fearghal McKinney Fearghal McKinney Social Democratic and Labour Party 7:45 pm, 9th February 2016

I will give a very short answer: no. That is not what I am proposing at all. In fact, as I go through my speech, I will point out areas in which we could save money in the system, because there is enormous waste in the health system.

I will deal with this now, given that the Member elaborated on it extensively and asked me directly about it. The reality is that it is not just about money. I have not so far said anything about wanting more. The one point on which I intervened concerned the trust money — the £128 million — that you pointed out. My worry is that, because this is a one-year Budget, that is going into a black hole. At the time of the conclusion of the PAC report, the trusts were sitting with £131 million of debt. Of course, the PAC report was published some time back — somebody can tell me when it was — so it could be £160 million now. In other words, we are pushing money at problems and we are not solving them, which gets me to my core point.

The Minister asked me a question in a particular way, and I hope this answers it: this was foreseen in 'Transforming Your Care'. There was a sentence in 'Transforming Your Care' that was very good and summed it all up; it said that a failure to plan would lead to "haphazard change". We have got haphazard change now by any measure, and it is wasting good public money. The wastage in the system is the issue.

If the then Minister of Finance and Personnel, the then Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the then First Minister and the then Minister for Social Development — I am pointing to four DUP Ministers — had even sat round their own kitchen tables, they might have got some consensus on this. They did not have to reach out to everybody else, because there was a consensus in 2011 that we needed to deal with the issue in terms of flow.

Like a business, what flows through the system is what is important. It would have taken some money, and if the Minister is saying to me what I think he is, he too will back our proposal to put health at the very top of the Executive's priorities so that we can begin to sort this problem out once and for all. That will entail investing some money at the start to alleviate the problems at the Causeway Hospital and in Ballymena on the community side. We need to take the pressure off the expensive accident and emergency side and the elective care side so that we are dealing with people and giving them a service in their own areas — not necessarily a hospital service, because we could shift the context —