Budget Bill: Second Stage

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 8:00 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Fearghal McKinney Fearghal McKinney Social Democratic and Labour Party 8:00 pm, 9th February 2016

I am sorry, Mr Speaker, the one thing that I was not doing and have not done during the debate is snipe from the sidelines. I am trying to come up with constructive answers to some of the bigger long-term problems that this constituency has. The Minister did not refer to the chronology of when he heard whatever, but, if he is suggesting that Sinn Féin is looking for our ideas on the one hand and the UUP has stolen our ideas on the other, I will be entirely happy with his intervention.

I want to ask the Minister a question directly. I have referred to it, but I want an answer if possible. It also refers to the nature of that. The budget rise is £128 million, but the trusts' deficit is £131 million. We need to know where that money is going. Is it going to future provision? Could it go to transformation or current pressures? Is it merely going into that black hole? For us, that is deeply worrying.

I take issue with the repeated concept that we are sniping. Neither I nor the SDLP is sniping. We see an opportunity going into the election and beyond, starting in this mandate and potentially going across mandates, to begin to deal fundamentally with some of the big issues that affect this society. These are societal issues, and that is what we are here for — at least, that is what I understood we were here for, not merely adding up numbers and claiming to be proud of that as an active act in itself.

The Health Minister pointed to a transformation fund aimed at encouraging reform and innovation. Given the earlier comments, I cannot see anywhere where that has been fleshed out in the Budget. It may form part of Professor Bengoa's deliberations or analysis — I am not sure what to call it — but I look forward to his proposals. We have had reports — I have referred to the Transforming Your Care report — and we have had reports on reports. Donaldson came in and said, "Get on with implementing Transforming Your Care, and that might get you off the starting blocks". My worry is that we will simply, through these other processes, have activity disguised as movement. As I have been arguing, now is the time for action, not analysis. We had consensus on reform, as we have said, and very little in outcome through implementation.

I touched on the TYC plan momentarily, but maybe I will flesh it out because it was the plan. Even the Department's analysis has shown that it has barely moved on its update. Proposal 9 dealt with domiciliary care and the home being the hub of care, which is a key provision. What do we end up with? The report states:

"analysis of current models of delivery and options for service redesign [will] inform future regional commissioning and procurement activities."

In other words, the homework has not been done.

We also need a direct answer on this. The Minister released £1·6 million for the independent sector, and if the homework has been done and if that sector has been in touch with the Department, the Department will know that, in fact, that sector is saying that it needs £36 million between now and April and another £9 million annually thereafter. Recipients of those care packages are some of the most vulnerable and frail people in society, and the Chamber owes it to them to ensure that their care needs are adequately met. I will make the point again that it is as a result of the failure of delivery of those care packages or the weakness of the care packages that, very often, our old people are presenting in accident and emergency because they cannot get the proper service or are not getting the GP service that they need. Their presenting at A&E is causing the crisis. The logical conclusion is not just about moving money around; the logical conclusion is that it is a systems failure and that the system needs to be fixed.

I could go through much more of the detail, but I am glad that we have had the debate and that it has widened out to some of the issues that I referred to. We need to make a health and social care system that is fit for the 21st century. We have an opportunity to do that. I reiterate: we can allocate money from now until the cows come home, but we need to do it with a plan that delivers for the people of Northern Ireland.