Health Minister’s statement to the Assembly on capital priorities

Everyone in Northern Ireland has the basic right to high quality health and social care services, delivered in modern and well equipped buildings.

The significant challenges facing the health and social care service can only be overcome with radical changes to the way services are delivered and configured.

Too many of our hospitals and healthcare facilities are no longer fit for purpose, many are potentially unsafe and of such poor quality that we should not expect either staff or patients to tolerate it.

Despite, the urgent need to build new modern facilities which will deliver efficiencies and improve care the money is simply not there to do this.

I made bids of £1.8billion for the new budget period but this bid was not met.

The final budget allocation slashed my available capital spend to £851million – almost £500million less than the original £1.3billion promised under ISNI.

Under these circumstances I no longer have the funding to proceed with many important projects. I have had no option but to balance all the competing priorities to decide on a programme of work for the next four years.

This was no easy task but when health is continually starved of the funding it needs, then very difficult decisions have to be made. Decisions over whether to fund care for elderly people in their homes, or cut thousands of job or increase waiting times or build a new hospital.

These are choices which have to be made because the health and social care service is broke. These are choices which can only cause pain and anxiety to the public.

Today I am announcing that, subject to normal business case processes, construction can start on the following high priority schemes:

The next phase of the Ulster Hospital Redevelopment which will replace the current Ward Block;

  • The new regional Maternity Hospital at the Royal;
  • The new enhanced local hospital at Omagh;
  • A new Acute Psychiatric Facility at the Belfast City Hospital;
  • A new A &E Department and Ward Accommodation at the Antrim Hospital;
  • New Operating Theatres at Craigavon Hospital; and new Health and Care Centres in Ballymena and Banbridge.

I remain committed to the future development of the Altnagelvin radiotherapy unit. However, the present budget proposal seriously undermines the ability to deliver this because of the absence of revenue funding and the reduction in capital resource available to my department.

Revenue is critical to the project. Decisions to commit the revenue were to be taken in 2011-12 to commence the necessary specialised training of staff for them to be fully trained and available when the project opens in 2016. These include oncologists, radiologists and radiographers. The current budget does not enable this decision to be taken.

This project is also dependent on the new Government in the Republic of Ireland, we must ensure they are still committed to contribute towards the costs of this essential scheme.

I remain totally committed to ensuring that people with cancer in Northern Ireland have access to the radiotherapy services they need.

Therefore I will ask the Board to put arrangements in place to introduce the two new radiotherapy machines at Belfast City Hospital over the next two years. This will help provide the capacity that is needed in the short to medium-term while the longer term service issues are being resolved.

Unfortunately my hands are tied and this will continue to be the situation until the need to provide properly funded Health and Social Care Services is recognised and given the due priority it deserves.

It appears that this Assembly is not prepared to provide enough money to maintain Health and Social Care in its present form, based on the long established principles that it is:

  • Free at the point of delivery.
  • Funded by taxation.
  • With no pre-set limits on the care that will be provided – the point being that elsewhere in the UK – if a new specialist drug is cost-effective it is generally available. That principle is already not being fulfilled in Northern Ireland and the budget will only make that position worse.

Throughout the last four years as Minister, I have championed the Health and Social Care service. This is everyone’s health service and should be valued and supported.

Shame on all of us if we turn our backs on an organisation which every day performs tremendous life-saving work and provides endless care and support to the people of Northern Ireland.

I wish the new Health Minister well in their new post. They will have many challenges and many more difficult decisions to make in the years ahead. I hope they will treat the service with the respect and esteem it deserves.

View the full statement to the house at:

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