Question Time: Health, Social Services and Public Safety Tuesday 08 December 2015

Sandra Overend enquired about the levels of funding allocated to address pressures in the health service in 2015-16 compared to those allocated in 2014-15 during today’s Questions to the Minister of Health, Simon Hamilton. The total level of funding in 2015-16 is £123m higher than that available in 2014-15 with that increase taking into account “the uplift that was outlined in the Executive’s Budget for 2015-16 and the additional non-recurrent in-year allocations made to my Department through the monitoring round process.” The Executive’s Budget for 2015-16 provided an additional £200 million for front-line health services, but the Department was also required to make some £50 million in savings in other areas of its budget, including the Fire Service and other arm’s-length bodies. The Minister went on to acknowledge that increasing pressure on the health service means that the system is in need of reform because the current situation will not suffice in the future. Advances in technology, longer life expectancy and unhealthy lifestyles necessitate change. “In the short term, we need to spend more in health, in part to address the immediate needs and to start to reform and transform our system. We have to be realistic that that increase, particularly at a time of pressure on our budget, is not sustainable in the very long term. So, we need to make those reforms and transformations to get our health service on a sustainable footing.”

During the topical question period the Minister addressed Fearghal McKinney’s concerns on the availability of cancer drugs in Northern Ireland. The Minister recently announced his conclusions, views and recommendations in respect of the consultation on the individual funding request (IFR). IFR provides access to unapproved specialist drugs where there is an agreed clinical need but where they are not routinely commissioned. The Minister has agreed to proceed with three of the recommendations including removing 95% exceptionality, which the majority of people in the consultation agreed is far too restrictive. Mr Hamilton has also agreed to establish a regional scrutiny committee, which will have a much fairer, more consistent and more clinically led approach to the issue of access to specialist drugs. The Minister will also start work on revising guidance on individual funding requests and he is confident “the House and those outside will recognise that this is positive progress in improving access to specialist drugs in Northern Ireland”.

During Question Time the Minister also answered questions on the Mater Hospital, the closure of the Health and Social Care Board, junior doctors’ contracts, day centre closures and the role of nurses in the health service.