Mr. McGimpsey seems very pleased with the allocation to health in the new budget. McGimpsey has claimed that the new budget gives him £150 million extra over the next three years. This seems to be broken down into £30 million extra revenue, £60 million from other departments under spends and £60 million from efficiency savings from his own department. Sceptics have, however, suggested that the total amount of new money may be as little as £57 million extra over the next three years. Even this more modest increase is of course to be welcomed and Mr. McGimpsey congratulated on achieving it.When one turns to the Departments web site one sees a truly impressive list of improvements that this money will be funding. However, when one reads a little more closely it becomes clear that all these impressive measures will be taken forward as part of the budget agreed by the Executive. Taking things forward does not mean quite the same thing as actually delivering them now does it?
Even if Mr. McGimpsey has an extra £150 million, it is rather doubtful whether or not all the proposals of the Department could be met. There is possibly a way by which we could really progress. That would be to make truly radical savings; I have commented on this previously but one of the big areas where savings could be made is in the number of acute hospitals, as well as other specific savings. One of the things which pleased me most during the recent rows about the budget was the claim that some in the DUP had suggested not building the new South West hospital or the new Downe. It is not that I have anything against these two projects per se (though the Downe seems very unlikely to be able to deliver acute services) but that someone had at last started to talk even tangentially about the possibility of reducing hospital numbers. I note that no leading members of the DUP ever came out and said this very publicly and there seemed little debate about these suggestions on the media.
Sadly, I fear McGimpsey will now plough on with his new money and I doubt if he will really look at reducing the numbers of acute hospitals or at other serious efficiency savings. Indeed he seems to find it hard not to suggest possible support for other new projects such as a cancer centre for Londonderry. Michael McGimpsey, if he was willing to be radical and initially unpopular could between this new money and efficiency savings transform the Northern Ireland Health Service. If he did that people would look back approvingly in twenty years and say that he had real vision and courage. I fear that especially with this new money and his own over inflation of its amount he will instead muddle along and so many of these grand dreams will either turn to ashes or be half baked. And yes if that happens, sadly lives will be put at risk.