Pic: Michael Kooiman

This time next week to the Northern Ireland health service will come into effect – including the closure of Minor Injuries Units and a reduction in hospital beds.

What does the Peace Dividend mean for Northern Ireland? In my opinion, like the traditional understanding of the term, it is the distribution of a portion of the Block Grant, decided by the ruling political parties to distribute to its parties members and existence. Fed from the Executive right through to Council level, to public groups of interest, right through to community groups that are littered with political representatives.

The chief executive of the Health and Social Care Board, Valerie Watts, has previously stated that we are facing a tough financial landscape in 2014/15. Back in October, Ms Watts stated that “whilst the £80m additional funding for health and social care will help minimise some of the impact on frontline services, currently there remains a shortfall in funding across the system.”

As a result of this, further cuts will include:

The closure of 3 Minor Injury Units

20 beds in Dalriada MS unit

7 beds in Mid Ulster Hospital acute rehabilitation Unit

9 medical beds in Downe Hospital

20 GP beds in Bangor Hospital

Ambulatory care for children in Dungannon

Ms Watts added “Inevitably, the plans may mean that some people will have to wait longer or travel further for some non-urgent treatment which is hugely regrettable.”

These fresh cuts come after six years of constant reduction in Health since the Assembly reformed in 2007. The most worrying thing is that they are not based on patient safety and this alone should have the Assembly blocking all closures. The question is why aren’t they?

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In light of BBC Spotlight revelations tough questions now need to be answered. How can MLA’s climb head over fist to defend their own personal expenditure, ensure that they get a pay rise and ensure in 2007 they recieve an extra £20,000 a year in expenses – all while cutting patient services.

While all the parties sit in talks to thrash out a ‘new deal’ so that Stormont can continue to exist, what other Peace Dividends will become available to the political parties at the expense of Public Services?

In my adult life I have lived by one rule when it comes to politics: ‘question everything’. If the Assembly had not taken a five year break in 2002 then perhaps we would have reached this point sooner. The peace dividend is the price the public in Northern Ireland have had to pay in order to live during the peace process. Surely peace time should mean the public do not have to fear government. However in Northern Ireland we are kept under constant fear of what the political class will do next.

Hugh McCloy |