Durkan: Health Minister must match warm words with swift action
Mr Durkan said: “While we are still in the early days of this long overdue process, it is fair to say that the Minister has shown an appetite to address the crisis facing our Health Service. However, there are a number of areas where she must move quickly to put meat on the bones of her statement or risk losing public and stakeholder trust.
“I had accused the previous Health Minister of ‘knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing’. The current Health Minister unfortunately demonstrated the opposite in her statement today. She showed a clear recognition of the value of improving our Health Service but providing no detail as to the cost. It is something that will become increasingly salient as time goes on and provision overlaps while new services are introduced and others are taken away. She must begin now to detail the costing of her plan.
“We must also see the detail of the rationalisation plan so the justification for any potential reductions is forthcoming and transparent. The Minister said that if we continue on our current path, the Health budget would soon account for 90% of the block grant. While we must avert this untenable position, this process cannot be a smokescreen for the reduction of services without providing adequate and equitable alternatives.
“The Minister drew a timeline of 8-10 years for the full implementation of her plan. She must put detail and targets to this timeframe as soon as possible so progress can be effectively accessed. Anything less will give the impression that this process is either ad hoc or that the Minister is trying to avoid accountability.
“We welcome that the Minister has agreed to appear before the Assembly twice a year to update us on her progress but she cannot assume that this is the only engagement that the SDLP will have on such an important issue. It is in the public interest for us to critically engage with her regularly in the time ahead to ensure that any changes are equitable and justified.
“All parties recognise and commend our healthcare staff on their tireless work in providing healthcare across the North. Their work has been first class; it is not on them that this has not translated into a first class health service. We hope that this process will begin to remedy this and so we have agreed to work constructively with the Minister. She must now commit to doing the same and be forthcoming in her engagement with all parties in the time ahead.”