Stormont budget: health trusts savings plans to be published

Northern Ireland's health trusts are expected to produce savings plans by the end of this month in the wake of last week's Stormont budget.

The health minister said the budget leaves him £300m short in order to maintain services at current levels.

Robin Swann has already warned the savings could include things like not approving new drugs for use in NI.

Health officials also fear waiting lists, already the worst in the UK, will continue to rise.

Mr Swann has bid for a total of £215m for waiting list initiatives, but will only get £34m which comes from the UK government financial package which accompanied the return of Stormont.

Health is also likely to get some extra money through budget reallocation exercises known as monitoring rounds.

It is understood that Mr Swann is anticipating getting about £50m in this way, far short of what he says he needs.

Speaking to a Stormont committee on Wednesday, a Department of Finance official said the June monitoring round is expected to allocate "tens of millions".

The Department of Health is also conducting a benchmarking exercise with the help of NHS England to identify areas where health costs in Northern Ireland are abnormally high.

That piece of work is due to be completed by the summer, although the department had already moved on some areas like agency staff costs.

Mr Swann's stance on the budget has been criticised by some of his Executive colleagues.

On budget day, Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly said she understood Mr Swann's concerns, but that if he had received everything he asked for "it would have consumed the entirety of what additional [funding] was available for the budget".

"There are other issues of key importance - special educational needs... broader education, justice. There are competing priorities," she said.