Autumn Statement: NI £41m boost may not go to health

Doctor holding cash The UK health service is being allocated an extra £2bn by the chancellor

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Northern Ireland's Department of Health may not benefit from an expected £41m in additional public spending.

This will be Stormont's share of the extra £2bn the chancellor will allocate to the UK health service, Treasury sources say.

Increased spending on health in England means an automatic increase in funding for Northern Ireland.

However, it is up to the executive to decide how that money is spent.

Some ministers of other Stormont departments argue that their budgets have already been cut.

'Flexible service'

Dr John O'Kelly, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners in Northern Ireland, said the money needed to be channelled towards health, and as in England, GP services in Northern Ireland deserved an allocation of funding.

"With this money we could have more GPs, practice nurses and more support staff, such as pharmacists and physiotherapists," he said.

"We certainly offer a more flexible service."

The change is due to the operation of the Barnett Formula, which will allocate about £33m to Northern Ireland.

The other money is a share of the fines which have been taken from banks for manipulating the foreign exchange market.

However, the executive is not obliged to spend the extra money on health.

On Friday, the most senior official in the Department of Health told the Health Committee his department needed to make £160m "efficiency savings" and "we cannot expect or anticipate any in-year funding in the future".

Richard Pengelly told the BBC he hoped to reinvest any money saved in frontline services.

"Without prejudging the outcome of what I do, I hope we identify ways of becoming more efficient," he said.

"Every pound we free up from administrative expenditure will be redeployed to the front line.

"That will inevitably raise the possibility of reductions in the numbers of staff we need, but that's coming across the whole public sector, and I think the executive is on record as saying that some form of voluntary exit may be needed in Northern Ireland."

He said there was "no intention to go down the compulsory redundancy path".

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