Nesbitt vows not to implement cuts that would 'catastrophically' impact service delivery

Stormont’s new health minister has insisted he is not looking for a fight with Executive colleagues, as he urged them to adopt a team approach to his funding crisis. Mike Nesbitt reiterated his vow not to implement cuts that would have a catastrophic impact on service delivery within the health service, making clear it was a “line in the sand” for him. But he declined to be drawn on whether he was prepared to overspend his budget this financial year – a move that would put him on a collision course with the Department of Finance – if he does not get sufficient funding to avoid such severe cuts.

Earlier, the finance minister said she hoped to have an additional £200 million later this month, but other departments would be competing for that.

In an interview with our health reporter Deborah McAleese, Mr Nesbitt said that he hoped that more funding for health would be made available in June.

He continued to say he would be “very surprised” if his department did not receive extra funding through the year, either from the in-year monitoring round reallocation process or from financial events that may flow from a change of government at Westminster.

Last week the Stormont Assembly backed a budget in a vote that saw then Health Minister Robin Swann and his UUP colleagues oppose the spending plan. Mr Swann warned that the budget allocation for his department was significantly below what was required and risked inflicting “irreparable” damage on Northern Ireland’s health service. Mr Nesbitt has since replaced his party colleague in post. On Monday the chairs of Northern Ireland’s health trusts warned that the projected budget cuts in health risk causing “avoidable and serious harm” to people in need of care. Mr Nesbitt said the types of cuts being considered had shocked him. “We’re talking about people telling me ‘we might have to close an Intensive Care Unit bed’,” he said. “The impact of that could be ultimate harm. So, we’re talking about deep, serious and avoidable harm and I don’t want to be in that business.” He added: “I’m about the business, first of all, of making sure that the public and indeed MLAs and Executive colleagues are aware of how serious the health budget is in terms of its implications. “But also by saying how can I use best the budget that I have got? How can we maximise the use of resources? And how can I work with colleagues because, believe me, I’m not looking for a fight at the Executive table, quite the opposite. “I’m looking to work collegiately. And I’ve said as a backbench MLA that since we’ve come back, I sense a different, a better, more positive mood, and it fundamentally revolves around the determination to deliver this time. Because we all know if the Assembly goes this time, it’s probably gone for a generation, or maybe for good. “So I want to work with colleagues. “I understand, for example, that the Education Minister (Paul Givan) has issues with educational underachievement and the children who are healthier are likely to do better at school. But I also know that one of my areas where I want to focus on, which is health inequalities, is not just about the Department of Health intervening. The Department of Education has a role to play. “I want to work with Conor Murphy (Economy Minister) in economy because 26% of people of working age are economically inactive. And if you look at the reasons why – health care or health, both physical and mental, is right up at the top of that league table. “So nearly everything that we do as an Executive needs more than one department working collaboratively to fix it. So, I’m not looking for a fight. I’m looking to form a team.” Mr Nesbitt did stress that he believed the problems besetting the health service were fixable. He also made clear that he was prepared to make big decisions in relation to restructuring and reform. The minister said he was sure that health professionals were up for those sort of changes. “There is a real appetite for change, there is an energy to say, if we got a minister who starts making the big, bold decisions, we will be there, we will be in support, we will make it happen,” he said. The minister added: “I’m trying to strike a balance between being realistic and making the public and Executive colleagues and MLAs aware of how bad the budget is on the one hand, but on the other hand I want to inject a wee bit of hope back into the health service. “It can be fixed and I don’t buy into this narrative that we’re on some sort of fatalistic downward spiral towards collapse.” When Mr Nesbitt was asked about those who are on long waiting lists he replied: " I don't think there's a single member of the executive committee, or, indeed, a single member of the Legislative Assembly who wants patients on trolleys in corridors or waiting in ambulances to be admitted to emergency departments. "So I think there is a collective will to try and make this better. It may be that, that this year given the budget, is going to be more about consolidation and stabilisation than anything else. "But I have 3 years and when the three years are up, I want people to recognise things have got better." Catch up with the latest UTV Live on ITVX

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