De Bren pushes health proposals

10 Feb 00
The development of health and social services in Northern Ireland has been halted with the return of political uncertainty in the province.

11 February 2000

As the peace process faltered over arms decommissioning, it seemed inevitable that the two-month-old power-sharing executive would be suspended and replaced by direct rule on February 11.

Pressure will now come on Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson to implement health spending plans proposed by health minister Bairbre de Brún in what is likely to be one of her last acts before suspension of the executive.

`With the new financial year just a month-and-a-half away, we need a quick decision,' one senior manager said.

In a shake-up of spending priorities, de Brún proposed boosting local cancer services through a £9m boost in the coming financial year. She said Northern Ireland's share of the tobacco taxes, due to be ring-fenced by Gordon Brown in the Budget on March 21, would be spent exclusively on cancer care.

Cancer is the second biggest cause of death in the province, and if present trends continue will be the biggest killer within seven years.

De Brún said: `Ideally, I would like to invest more, but £9m will enable us to make an impact, by supporting a new cancer service and local cancer units, and enhancing palliative care.'

She added that existing services would be maintained and that pay awards announced last month would be fully funded.

Some service developments that had been shelved because of a lack of cash, particularly in community care, would be reinstated.

An additional £3m would be spent on children's services, while the Sure Start programme, which aims to help disadvantaged children, would begin in September.

An extra £3m to help hospitals tackle the annual winter flu crisis was announced last month.

The minister called on the public to help reduce demand for care, and pledged to pour money into health promotion.

De Brún said: `I am particularly concerned because the less well-off in our society suffer the worst health of all. I intend therefore to spend some of these extra resources on such healthy lifestyle programmes as smoking cessation and physical activity.'


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