Health bodies in Northern Ireland face spending pressures that risk pushing them into deficit, warns the Northern Ireland Comptroller and Auditor General, John Dowdall, in his annual report on the health and social care sector for last year.
Dowdall also warns that an over £1bn major capital redevelopment programme is “a significant test” for management. He says that while there have been improvements in achieving better healthcare, more needs to be done to improve people’s health in Northern Ireland, in particular to reduce ill health related to smoking and obesity.
Progress has been made in reorganising the Northern health and social care structure, with four health and social service boards and other agencies having been abolished, and other agencies merged, from April this year. But this has led to staff compensation of £16m, with more to be funded for additional redundancy and early retirement costs. Savings will take time to cover this outlay, says Dowdall.
The accounts for the Western Health and Social Care Trust were qualified by Dowdall, because of contracts not properly awarded and managed by one of its predessor bodies – the Sperrin Lakeland Trust. Payments for a £129,000 management consultancy contract did not adhere to guidance, while £2.4m spent on specialists for work on capital projects were “deemed to be outside the approved business case”.
Progress is being made, says the report, in tackling a £10m annual loss from prescription fraud; a £1.4m fraud committed by pharmacists, GPs, opticians and dentists; and in recovering £2.2m from a pharmaceutical price-fixing cartel.