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'Drop in the ocean' funding must be managed properly as NI health services lurches toward privatisation

Ian Knox: cartoon 27/6/17: Hardened cynics are shocked by the naked venality of the deal 
Seanín Graham
'A DROP in the ocean' was the immediate reaction voiced by senior NHS professionals yesterday to the news of a £300 million bailout on the back of the DUP-Conservative deal.
 
Their disappointment was natural given a week after it was touted the DUP 'kingmakers' could potentially secure £1 billion to overhaul a system on the brink of collapse.
 
While cautious welcomes were given in official trade union press statements, one of the most pressing concerns centred on where exactly the money would be spent and who would be in charge of administering the multi-million fund.
 
With civil servants now running our health service in the absence of power-sharing and no agreed budget, those concerns were timely given events of the past week when £1m was slashed from a budget to train specialist nurses ­ only for that decision to be overturned on Monday night.
 
The rationale governing the initial cost-cutting decision still remains unclear in the context of a £5 billion budget and the detrimental impact the cut would have on patient care.
 
For many health professionals, there are also very real fears that the £300 million investment will be used as part of a "sticking plaster" approach to solve the waiting list crisis in the short-term by turning to the private health sector.
 
This tactic has been repeatedly used since Shaun Woodward's days as a direct rule health minister in 2005 ­ and while it does yield instant results it is far from sustainable as our latest appalling waiting figures show.
 
The deafening call among front-line NHS workers is for a return to devolved power but with the RHI inquiry start date now put back until October it is looking increasingly likely that civil servants may be at the helm a little longer.

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