Millions of pounds worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) will be bought this year for future use by Northern Ireland’s health service in tackling the coronavirus pandemic, the Health Minister has announced – writes Michael McHugh, PA.
The Treasury gave the go-ahead in a special departure from normal budgeting rules because of the Covid-19 emergency.
Robin Swann said the £175 million boost represented significant progress.
He added: “Personal protective equipment is essential for protecting our staff and patients and this year more than ever it is vital that we continue to build on our stocks.
“The move by Treasury will allow my department to spend the money in the 2020/21 financial year to boost supplies for later use.
“This will be significant in dealing with the cost consequences of the pandemic.”
Consumables such as PPE are normally counted as expenditure as they are used.
The concession in relation to Covid-19 PPE will allow stocks of PPE to build and to overlap financial years.
This year’s health budget has been boosted significantly by special emergency Covid-19 allocations from London.
Mr Swann added: “These allocations were hugely welcome and important.
“But non-recurrent, one-off allocations do not provide a basis for addressing the major structural problems afflicting health and social care – especially staffing and waiting times.
“We need a sustainable long-term fix for these issues and that cannot be achieved with here today, gone next year monies.”
Stormont Finance Minister Conor Murphy is seeking further flexibility to carry forward funds into next year, recognising health pressures and his commitment to multi-year budgets.
Mr Swann added: “I call on Treasury to grant this flexibility and going forward to provide a multi-year Spending Review.”
Mr Murphy said he continued to discuss the matter with Treasury and expected to carry forward any further funding provided into 2021-22.
“However, Treasury have advised this will not include flexibility in relation to the funding received (for the pandemic) before Christmas,” he said.
“It is therefore important this £200million is now made available for reallocation.
“I continue to urge Executive ministers to bring forward proposals to use available funding, particularly for those who to date haven’t received support.”
The Executive has agreed further reallocations worth £226.5 million following bids from departments.
More than £15.2 million will fund the purchase of medical equipment across cardiology, urology and radiology specialisms, and help procure licenses for digital health technology.
Another £27.3 million is for additional student support announced last week, £9 million is being allocated to the Forest Service and £42,000 for the Commission for Victims and Survivors.
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