Poll backs prioritising health in forthcoming Stormont budget

In a new survey, 70 per cent of adults in Northern Ireland said health should be the priority for public spending in 2022.

THE vast majority of the public think the executive should prioritise health in its forthcoming budget, a new survey suggests.

Stormont’s ministers have yet to agree on a draft budget for the next three years.

But Finance Minister Conor Murphy has already made clear his intention of putting health firmly at the top of the list of spending priorities.

Mr Murphy wrote to his executive colleagues in recent weeks asking them to prepare to divert resources to the north’s beleaguered health system.

The vast majority of the public appear to agree with that approach, according to a new poll from Ipos MORI. It featured in Deloitte’s 'The State of the State 2021-22' report, which analysed the present state of government and public services.

Some 70 per cent of the 420 members of the public surveyed in Northern Ireland said healthcare should be prioritised for public spending in 2022.

Just under 40 per cent of those surveyed in the north flagged up social care for older people, higher than the UK average of 33 per cent.

Stormont’s annual health budget currently stands at around £6.5bn.

Conor Murphy warned last month that diverting an ever-increasing proportion of Executive funding into health spending is not sustainable in the long term.

The finance minister said that without reform, the service would continue to need money that would otherwise have been used for other public services.

Deloitte said its latest report was also informed by interviews conducted with elected representatives, government officials, public service executives and business leaders in Northern Ireland

Deloitte director Marie Doyle, said there is concern that the focus on the protocol, pandemic and economic recovery plans will continue to place reform of the health system on the back-burner.

“Politicians and officials agree that health and social care reform must be a top priority and while debates in other parts of the UK often focus on funding, leaders in Northern Ireland believe we must now invest in transformation across the system to avoid an unaffordable system into the future,” she said.

“Many want to see the ambitious proposals of Bengoa’s 2016 report implemented after a combination of the executive’s collapse and the pandemic response resulted in progress being stalled. Whether there is the political will or structures in place to make this happen is the big question.”

Meanwhile, the Ipos MORI poll suggested citizens in Northern Ireland have much less trust in government than their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales.

Nearly half of those surveyed in the north (46 per cent) expect to see inequality between different regions get worse in coming years.

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