Northern Ireland

Edwin Poots to reverse McGimpsey's health review plans?

Health Minister Edwin Poots
Image caption Mr Poots told the BBC that certain aspects of the health service require reviewing.

Health Minister Edwin Poots looks set to reverse a decision by his predecessor over who should lead a major review of the health service.

Michael McGimpsey announced the review to the Assembly two months ago.

Mr Poots has said he is considering whether the former Chief Executive of the Belfast Health Trust, William McKee, is the right person for the job.

Mr Poots also said that the decision to hold a review had not been approved by the Department of Finance.

"When Michael McGimpsey made that announcement, the Department of Finance hadn't even cleared it," he said.

"At this stage I'm not sure if the review will actually go ahead or even who will lead it.

"I am a new set of eyes on this department, I might just decide that the review needs a fresh set of eyes as well."

On the day that Michael McGimpsey announced that plans to build a radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin had been postponed, he also told the Assembly that William McKee, the former Belfast Health Trust chief executive, would lead a major review of the health service.

Mr McKee retired from his high-profile post last September with a £1.3m pension pot and a six-figure "golden handshake".

The BBC understands that the first many health officials heard of the review and who was leading it, was when Michael McGimpsey made his announcement to the Assembly on 23 March.

While his decision to postpone building a radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin was controversial and unexpected, announcing yet another health review which had not been officially cleared, triggered outbursts from Sinn Fein and the DUP.

'Appalling'

Jim Wells, who chaired the health committee at the time, but is now the current vice chair described Mr McGimpsey's decision as "appalling".

Speaking to the BBC he said: "Michael McGimpsey was totally out of order. He is supposed to tell the committee his intentions and to announce such important decisions on the second last day of the Assembly was just sneaky and wrong."

The review and the potential cost of it was raised at this week's first sitting of the new health committee which is being chaired by Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew.

Ms Gildernew questioned the cost of hiring consultants and was reminded by Jim Wells that Mr McGimpsey's intention to hold a review, headed by William McKee, had not been revealed to the committee.

Mr Poots told the BBC that certain aspects of the health service require reviewing.

"Certain clinical aspects of the service do require a certain level of review, perhaps not everything. But I am currently looking at the clinical end of things," he said.

Mr Poots could be referring to the ongoing attempts by civil servants and some commissioners to cut the number of accident and emergency units in Belfast.

It is an open secret that many would prefer one as opposed to three, with a huge question mark remaining over the future of the Mater's accident and emergency in north Belfast.

While Mr Poots will call that reform, others will describe it as cuts. The Minister's task is to convince the public he is right.

Not long into the job and Edwin Poots is showing not only can he make decisions, but he can also reverse previous pledges.

The question is what else is he considering undoing.

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