Thank you, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker.
It is my sincere hope that the Department and trusts will be able to work together to deliver the savings in a way that does not compromise the safety of our patients. Of course, as well as approving changes to allocations in this financial year, the Assembly is being asked this week to effectively sign off on a significant proportion of next year's allocation. I understand that essential services need to continue and wages need to be paid, but the fact that, as we stand here today, we know little of the detail is indicative of a Health Department and Minister who believe that they are above scrutiny and accountability.
With an annual budget of almost £4·9 billion, it is simply unacceptable that the Assembly is being asked to approve this without any meaningful detail whatever. It is my fear that, given the obvious failure to address the crisis across our hospitals, we will be standing here this time next year making the same points and expressing the same bitter disappointment on behalf of the constituents who have elected us to serve in their best interests. Before the Minister talks about the additional allocation for next year, which I of course welcome, I ask him not to, because he and I both know that it does not come anywhere close to addressing the increase in demand and other inflation-related increases. So far, from what little we have been able to gather, the Budget does nothing to address what is undoubtedly this Executive's biggest failure.
Before I draw my remarks to a conclusion, I ask the Finance Minister to take on board the will of the House. Just last month, we debated changes to the Fire and Rescue Service. Following that debate, the Assembly resolved that the Health Minister should
"seek Executive approval to ring-fence the NIFRS budget consistent with its front-line service function." — [Official Report, Vol 111, No 3, p57, col 2].
When we talk about patient safety, it is important to remember the service that responds to critical incidents across Northern Ireland every day. They prevent injury and save lives, and without that financial support that critical service is placed at risk and even greater pressure is placed on our health service, not to mention the increased risk of loss of life.
I appreciate that we can often focus on the numbers on the spreadsheet and the statistics on a sheet of paper, but the central argument I make to the Minister, in all sincerity, is this: behind the numbers lie our constituents. They feel and bear the ultimate outworkings of budgets — the successes and the failures — and I ask the Minister, as I know he appreciates the point, to take that on board.