Robin Swann votes against budget and warns it could see health services collapse

A budget agreed by the Stormont powersharing Executive risks pushing health services to the point of collapse, Northern Ireland’s Health Minister has warned.

Robin Swann voted against the budget for the current financial year which was agreed by his Executive colleagues following a lengthy meeting on Thursday.

First Minister Michelle O’Neill conceded it was a “very challenging” budget but stated she was disappointed Mr Swann could not support it.

Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly said the sum asked for by the health minister would have consumed the entire funding available to the Executive.

Michelle O’Neill visit to FinTrU
First Minister Michelle O’Neill (left) and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly welcomed the agreement of the budget (Peter Morrison/PA)

He continued: “I believe it would result in serious and potentially irreparable damage to health and care services.

“Patients who rely on these services would be placed at significantly greater risk of coming to actual harm and the already intolerable pressures on staff would be multiplied.”

“I have a real fear that a service that is currently struggling in many areas could be pushed to the point of collapse in at least some areas.”

He concluded: “This budget, if passed by the Assembly, will drive unplanned and potentially chaotic change from which we will struggle to recover.”

Speaking at a press conference after the budget was announced, Ms Little-Pengelly said: “The reality is that if the health minister had received what he asked for, it would have consumed the entirety of what additional was available for the budget.

“There are other issues of key importance, special educational needs including broader education, justice. There are competing priorities.”

Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald said the Stormont Executive would continue to press the Westminster Government for more funding for Northern Ireland.

Ms O’Neill said the Executive had to show leadership by agreeing a budget.

She said: “Despite the severity of the financial challenges that are facing us we have all collectively tried to work together to make the tough choices and to demonstrate the leadership that the public rightly deserve.

“The budget itself underlines our commitment to health, in terms of prioritising health. It also invests significantly in our education services and provides funding for the childcare strategy.

“There is no doubt – and there is no escaping the fact – this was a very difficult call, a very difficult budget for us to discuss.”

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