Northern Ireland

Fears over cuts to health budget

The health committee has heard that, for the first time, Northern Ireland is now spending less per head on health than in England.

The director of finance in the Department of Health, Sean Donaghy, was addressing the committee at Stormont on Thursday.

The Department of Health is faced with making cuts of up to 17%.

The annual budget for the Department of Health is £4.5bn. The NI draft budget is due in October with a consultation period to follow.

During an evidence session at the Stormont Health Committee, Mr Donaghy said one of the assumptions was that Northern Ireland "can expect no growth in funding" over the next four years.

He said that he did not feel it "was appropriate" to speculate on what the scale of budget cuts might mean.

Mr Donaghy said that if the Northern Ireland health budget is not ring fenced by the Executive, there would be no increase in funding for four consecutive years.

The committee also heard that a growing population, including a growing older population was placing an increasing demand on services.

Mr Donaghy also said that there was also an increasing expectation from the public concerning services.

At the end of June, Chancellor George Osborne's first budget detailed a package of tax increases and spending cuts which aims to cut the UK's £155bn deficit.