Only real commitment to funding will solve Health Service problems
Speaking ahead of NIO health minister's, Shaun Woodward MP, much heralded speech on the future of health provision in the North, Sinn Féin's health spokesperson John O'Dowd MLA, has said that nothing less than a total commitment to provide proper levels of funding for the health service in the North would be acceptable.
The Upper Bann MLA said, "It is worth recalling that the former NIO Health Minister, Angela Smith, admitted in 2004 that the health service in the Six Counties has been funded largely to attempt to maintain existing levels of service, with little or no money for developing new services.
"The North's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Henrietta Campbell, last November last, made it clear that direct rule ministers had abjectly failed to adequately to resource our health service when she warned then that the health service in the North was facing a bleak future in which there would be 'a famine of resources'.
Mr O'Dowd said, "Three years ago in 2002, the Department of Health published a report on the needs and effectiveness within health and social care (Needs and Effectiveness Evaluation: Health and Social Care, DHSSPS). While accepting that, at £2.5bn, the health allocation represents some 40% of total public expenditure in the North, the report consistently stressed that despite year on year increases that figure is not sufficient to meet the health and social care needs of the Six Counties. Indeed, this was underlined by the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, Clive Gowdy, last year when he said in a newspaper article that the health service in the Six Counties would need an additional annual investment in services and capital funding of between £400m to £500 million. This is an indictment of the failed policies of successive British Governments under direct-rule.
"Shaun Woodward should use the opportunity provided by Tuesday's speech to announce a personal commitment to ensuring the achievement of those priority objectives under the original Investing for Health strategy which were agreed by all of the North‚s political parties and clearly set out in the Executive's agreed Programme for Government. Those five health priority areas identified at that time were:
- reducing preventable disease, ill-health and health inequalities;
- ensuring that the environment supports healthy living and that recreational facilities are improved;
- modernising and improving hospital and primary care services to ensure more timely and effective care and treatment for patients;
- enabling those with disability, mental health difficulties, chronic illness or terminal illness to achieve the highest standard of living and to be fully integrated within society; and
- promoting the health and social development of children.
"That these objectives have not been met by any of Shaun Woodward's direct rule predecessors with responsibility for health was clearly demonstrated in the recent Priorities and Budget 2005 - 2008 which acknowledged that:
- The standard of health in the North remains lower than that in England
- Age standard mortality rates remain to be above that of England and Wales reflecting greater problems with coronary and respiratory disease
- Waiting lists still remain longer
- Numbers dying from heart disease are the highest in Europe
- Cancer rates are unacceptably high
- DLA claimant rate is twice that in England, Scotland and Wales
- One in ten people of working age is claiming Incapacity Benefit
Mr O'Dowd added, "The NIO minister must also recognise that the linkage between levels of deprivation, ill-health and morbidity, including mental health problems, is also impacting upon the North's weakened position in respect of relative health spending. The position relative to England illustrates this with proportionately more children requiring social services in the North than in England but relative spending in England on children's social services is some 35% higher than here.
"Overall, given the significant differential need in the North, it is estimated that spending here should be some 17% higher than those levels in England to achieve parity in meeting health and social care needs. Giving a full commitment to creating that level of parity would entail additional finance being made available to the current DHSSPS budget. Currently, it is estimated that the Health Service in the Six Counties would need to receive a minimum of £250 million additional funding in order to receive the same uplift that the British Government is giving the health service in England.
"The British Government can, if it so wishes, make these resources available immediately to fulfil these unmet health and social needs by delivering the promised peace dividend.
"If this is not done, then there will a further increase in unmet health and social need, which in turn will lead to a greater backlog that will eat into any future investment.
"Mr Woodward should also use Tuesday to announce the introduction of a complete ban on smoking in all enclosed public spaces. If he is serious about creating an effective health service, he must also demonstrate that serious commitment by effectively tackling those issues which cause ill-health. Smoking is widely recognised to be the single biggest cause of preventable illnesses in the Six Counties. Shaun Woodward should accept the fact that only an outright ban is the most effective way of combating this." ENDS