Choices have to be made on funding priorities in health and social care, Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly has made clear.
In a speech to a Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy conference at the Stormont Hotel, Mr Pengelly said: “I have stated that my Department does not have the money to do everything we are being asked to do.
“This is not unique to me - I’m sure colleagues in other Departments would say exactly the same thing and with good reason.
“It’s now in the public domain that our health and social care trusts are facing a projected £20 million deficit this financial year.
“While intensive work will continue to ensure their books are balanced, the reality is that the projected deficit represents only a small part of the escalating pressures and demands we are facing in the months and years ahead.
“Currently these are presented to me with frustration – the argument being that because I don’t do something, it means I don’t want to do it. That is certainly not the case.
“Why wouldn’t I want to reduce waiting lists, increase pay for hard pressed staff and reduce the pressure on those staff by recruiting and training more colleagues? Why wouldn’t I want to improve mental health provision and focus on suicide prevention, commission new drugs for patients with cancer and other serious conditions?
“The truth is I simply can’t afford to do all these things – in fact, I can’t afford to do all the things we currently do.
“And with a fixed budget, I can only do more in some areas by doing less in others. And that is the key challenge.
“It is why we need a society-wide conversation on budgetary priorities and how best to use the limited resources we have. In the next year alone, the competing demands and pressures could between them add hundreds of millions to an already very stretched health budget.”
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