Northern Ireland

Edwin Poots: NI health minister says cuts would risk 'patient safety'

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Media captionEdwin Poots said he had no intention of making the cuts

Northern Ireland's health minister has said he will not implement cuts that would "destroy our health service".

Edwin Poots warned patient safety would be "compromised" by the cuts proposed and said he was not prepared to do it.

The DUP MLA said his department faced a £140m shortfall and he blamed Sinn Féin for not agreeing a welfare reform deal.

Sinn Féin accused the DUP of supporting "Tory cuts" and said health had been protected while other NI departments were facing cuts to their budgets.

On 1 August, the NI Executive agreed to cut Stormont departments' budgets by £78m, with the exception of health and education.

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton also warned that further cuts, amounting to £87m, would be required if a deal on welfare reform was not agreed.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show on Thursday, Mr Poots said that if the Northern Ireland Executive would not agree to allocate more money to health then they would have to find another minister to introduce the cuts.

Mr Poots said: "I am not going to impose cuts which will have such a negative consequence that it will damage the health of the Northern Ireland population.

"We're talking here about cancer services, we're talking here about cardiac services, we're talking about care of the elderly, we're talking about emergency departments, we're talking about out-of-hours doctors."


Analysis: Stephen Walker, BBC NI political reporter

Edwin Poots wanted £160m extra for his health department, but got just £20m in a new budget revealed earlier this month.

He said the planned cuts would be devastating and warned that patients would suffer as a result, through longer waiting lists and fewer nurses.

Mr Poots said he is not prepared to implement the cuts himself and that being sacked by the Executive and his party leader First Minister Peter Robinson was "an option", but added "I hope that it won't come to that".

He said he believed the DUP supported him.

When the Finance Minister Simon Hamilton revealed Stormont's departmental budgets, he also criticised the way the health budget was being run by Mr Poots, who is his party colleague.

The health minister overspent by £13.1m last year.

The union Unison, which represents many NHS staff in Northern Ireland, has said it hopes Thursday's developments are not part of an internal DUP power struggle.


Warning

Mr Poots said patient waiting lists would rise and nurses would be "run off their feet".

The minister has warned the Northern Ireland Executive that he "cannot deliver £140m of savings".

"The consequence is they find someone else to do it, or they do it themselves, or they find the money," he said.

Mr Poots added that he was not refusing outright to make savings to the health budget, but said he was not prepared to implement cuts that he believed would put patient safety at risk.

"I will make cuts, but there are certain services that I will not make cuts on, and the consequence of that is, we will break the budget by tens of millions of pounds unless more money is allocated to health," he added.

He said he needed at least £80m in funding from the Northern Ireland Executive in order to ensure that patients' safety would not be compromised.

Mr Poots criticised Sinn Féin's stance on welfare reform and said Stormont should prioritise the funding of "life-saving" patient services over welfare.

However, Sinn Féin MLA Mickey Brady said: "The Tory cuts of billions of pounds for essential services have caused the crisis in the health service and reduced budgets right across departments.

Denial

"The DUP has supported these Tory cuts which have been about stripping out the National Health Service.

"The current crisis has nothing at all to do with the issue of welfare cuts which Sinn Féin successfully resisted during the monitoring round. Otherwise departments would have faced an additional £87m of cuts.

"The health budget was protected and an additional £20m was allocated to health."

Mr Brady added: "Mr Poots also suggested today on air that maybe he is not the man for the health job. If this is so then he and his party leader should immediately consider his future."