January Monitoring Round

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 16th January 2017.

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Photo of Philip Smith Philip Smith UUP 3:00 pm, 16th January 2017

3. Mr Smith asked the Minister of Health whether she will make a bid for additional funds in the January monitoring round. (AQO 891/16-21)

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

As the Finance Minister said in the previous Question Time, as there is no Executive, due to the DUP's mishandling of the renewable heat incentive (RHI) scandal, there will be no January monitoring. We refused to tolerate the DUP's arrogance and the contempt that it continued to show towards power sharing and the principle of equality. That is regrettable, given that we are all aware that Health is facing significant and increasing challenges in endeavouring to meet the ever-increasing demand from within constrained financial resources. There are a significant number of front-line service pressures right across health and social care, from the hospital sector through to community services and social care. Those pressures are being managed proactively, and will continue to be, in order to live within our resources, but let us be clear: public finances will continue to flow in the absence of a January monitoring round. We are all aware that Health is facing significant and increasing challenges, and, in endeavouring to meet the ever-increasing demand from within constrained financial resources, there are a significant number of front-line-service pressures right across the sector. As I said, those pressures are being proactively managed in order to live within resources. We will continue to engage with the Department of Finance to address the additional investment necessary to support the delivery of services.

I have consistently said that the transformation of the health and social care system will require significant funding, but it is important that, first, we build capacity in primary care by developing multidisciplinary teams, increase surgeries that do not require overnight stays and move towards elective care centres to focus on waiting lists, among many other things.

Photo of Philip Smith Philip Smith UUP

I thank the Minister for her answer. I appreciate that the initial question has been taken over by events, but, now that we have no monitoring round capability and the first Bengoa action on waiting lists will fall, what does the Minister say to the 250,000 people on record waiting lists to explain why she has put party politics before effectively doing her job for all the people of Northern Ireland?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

What do I say to the people on waiting lists? I say that it is not good enough, and I continue to say that. It is absolutely not good enough. I set out how we needed to transform health and social care in the short, medium and longer term. I set out a number of key actions that we need to deliver from the Bengoa report and the direction of travel for doing that. There are 18 points. We have actioned quite a number of those, and we are on target to deliver on the others. There was some confusion last week. I will publish an elective care plan. I will publish exactly what I intended to do with waiting lists, because that is important for trying to build public confidence.

We cannot let the waiting lists issue overshadow the real, meaningful transformation that we need to achieve. I have said it previously and will say it again: let us be very clear that the reason why we are in this scenario is because of the DUP. We are in this scenario because of the DUP's arrogance and the fact that it continues to ignore the public concern over the RHI scandal. Until seven months into this mandate, it failed to publish a plan for how it is going to stop the flow of money. Despite all the pleas and calls for the First Minister to stand aside, she ignored the public, and we now find ourselves in a scenario in which we have no option. Martin McGuinness took a very considered decision to place his resignation before the Assembly. It was absolutely the right thing to do. I only want to govern and be part of institutions that have equality at their core. Without that, there is no public confidence in them. The public need to be very sure that, when I or any other Minister who is part of an Executive takes a decision, it is done on the basis of the public interest and on the basis of equality, parity of esteem and mutual respect.

I do not think that the public will thank us or anybody else for being part of institutions that do not have equality at their core. It is now over to the public to have their say. I will send this message to the public: I believe that I have set out a vision for health and social care. I wanted to be at my desk continuing to deliver the transformation. I will stay at my desk until the eve of the election, when that ceases to be the case. I am as determined today to deliver on the principles of the health service as I was when I took up office and set out the transformation journey. This situation absolutely falls at the feet of the DUP and its arrogance.

Photo of Pat Sheehan Pat Sheehan Sinn Féin

Will the Minister give us an update on funding for the community and voluntary sectors?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

It is really important that I listen to the views of the groups out there on core grant funding, and I did so over the past number of months. One of the issues that they consistently raised with me is their belief that the loss of core grant funding will be detrimental and take away from their ability to provide advocacy services. Therefore, I would give some consideration to what was originally tabled for the way forward, where there would have been a reducing percentage of core grant funding going out and an innovation scheme coming into place. The more that I have considered that over recent months and the more that I have engaged with the community and voluntary sector, in place of the innovation scheme, the more that has led me to intend to establish a new core grant scheme that will be linked to the vision for health and social care and transformation. It will support the core functions of voluntary and community sector organisations and will be open to applications from any voluntary and community sector organisation that demonstrates that it meets the aims of the requirements of the new scheme

Whilst, as I have said, I was supportive of the innovative aims of the proposed innovation scheme, I was concerned that closure of the core grant scheme would leave a significant gap in relation to the strong advocacy role that is performed by the voluntary and community sector. Work on the design of the scheme has started, and I have asked officials to engage the sector in the design process. Organisations that are currently in receipt of core grant funding will continue to receive grants at current levels until the new core grant scheme is up and running and accepting applications. To be very clear: there will be no reduction in grants in 2017-18 as previously planned. All 65 voluntary and community organisations that are currently in receipt of core grant funding were informed of my decision by letter on 5 January.

Photo of Colin McGrath Colin McGrath Social Democratic and Labour Party

My first question to the Health Minister in this mandate was about the Downe Hospital. It would appear that my last question to the Health Minister in this mandate will be about it, too. Does the Minister feel that monitoring round money offers an excellent opportunity for pilot projects which can help excellently located facilities such as the Downe Hospital to provide services locally and also help to ease pressures in the wider hospital network?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

Obviously, there was a change in the approach to monitoring rounds. We were doing things differently. It is now a process of ongoing conversation with the Finance Minister, and I can assure you that I regularly knock on his door. I had an opportunity to go down and meet some of the staff of the Downe Hospital. I very much welcomed that opportunity. They are absolutely passionate about what they can do. They also see very clearly their role in how health and social care will look in the future. The Downe Hospital absolutely has a key role to play. I am looking forward to working with the staff to ensure that we develop that and that the Downe Hospital plays a significant role in the future delivery of health and social care. I have always said that the future of delivery may look different, but there is no doubt about it: hospitals like the Downe Hospital should look at this as a real opportunity to be part of the new vision for health and social care.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

I would like to go back one question, Minister, to core grant funding. It is welcome that there will be no reduction next year, but there has been a reduction of 25% this year. The rationale for that was that this innovation fund was coming forward. It was believed that that money was in the budget. Given the urgency with which we need these health and well-being projects to be delivered, would it not be prudent to reinstate that 25% for the current financial year?

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

I can assure the Member that I am actively looking at that area and issue and how best we can use the funding. I am glad that she welcomes the new scheme. It has certainly received positive feedback from the community and voluntary sector. Given how we have now aligned the new scheme, we need to look at that additional funding. I am committed to doing that. I am looking at potential ways in which we can support the community and voluntary sector, and I particularly want to look towards mental health. I think that there could be an opportunity for us to do something in relation to that. I will keep the Member informed as to how we will roll it out, but I am looking at the 25% and how best we can make sure that it does enter the community and voluntary sector arena and how best it can then be spent.