Health minister ‘deeply concerned' over potential funding cuts
Health Minister Robin Swann has said he is “deeply concerned” that the health service could be facing a funding cut of “tens of millions of pounds” to help meet the cost of a payments scheme for Troubles victims.
Robin Swann told the Assembly “top slicing” the funding allocation to the already “stretched” health service would be “deeply damaging and a detrimental step to take”.
He added it would “seriously undermine” our ability to fund Northern Ireland’s most fundamental health and social care services.
The Finance Minister told the Assembly last week that top-slicing funding allocations from Executive departments was one way to find the money needed to cover the bill for the payments to those physically or psychologically injured in the conflict.
But Conor Murphy said it would only be used as a “last resort”.
It comes as the Executive continues to press the British Government to part-fund a scheme that could end up costing £1.2 billion over its lifetime.
A legal stand-off between the Executive and government over the funding ended when ministers in Belfast gave a formal undertaking to the Court of Appeal that they will ensure the scheme is paid for, come what may.
Despite that, ministers have insisted efforts to get the Treasury to stump up more cash will go on.
During Assembly questions today, Mr Swann was asked by Ulster Unionist Alan Chambers what level of funding cuts the department could face as the Executive tries to cover the costs for the scheme.
Mr Chambers told the minister he welcomed the pension payment, describing it was “long overdue” but he said that many people will be “deeply concerned that the finance minister is simply going to cut budgets for some of the most important services to pay for it”.
The minister said he was “deeply concerned” that the Finance Minister had suggested that the costs could be covered by reducing department resource budgets on a pro-rata basis.
“Whilst the payments no doubt need to be made I hope that all members will agree with me that top slicing a health service that has never been as stretched as it currently is would be deeply damaging and a detrimental step to take,” he said.
Mr Swann added that the costs are “still to be determined”.
“My department could be facing a cut of many tens of millions of pound each and every year,” he said.
“A budget reduction of that magnitude would seriously undermine our ability to fund all of our most fundamental health and social care services.
“After a decade of under investment and a desperate need to rebuild after Covid the last thing our health service needs is such a deep cut to its annual budget.
“And I sincerely hope that the finance minister can find an alternative way forward in regards to the payment of the victims pension.”
The government has suggested that £100 million of Treasury funding earmarked for issues related to Northern Ireland’s “unique circumstances” in the deal to restore Stormont could be used to part-fund the scheme.
But the Finance Minister has rejected this proposal, insisting it does not amount to an additional funding commitment.