Health Minister Confident About His Department’s Finances

Health Minister David Ashford is confident that his department will hit budget targets by the end of the financial year.

As Friday’s Courier reported, a Tynwald question last week revealed that the department was £1 million over budget for the first quarter, but Mr Ashford said that the health service was subject to monthly fluctuations.

There were other areas – not frontline services – where savings could be found in time to ensure there will be no overspend at the end of the year.

Up until the end of July, the net spend was £69.61m, against a budget of £68.57m. The overall budget for the entire year is £271m.

Mr Ashford told the Isle of Man Examiner: ‘My first job when I became health minister was to put through a request for supplementary funding.

‘I certainly do not want to be standing up in Tynwald next year asking for a supplementary vote.’

He added: ‘At the moment there is a slight overspend there.

‘To be blunt, if we considered where it was in previous years, it is an upturn.’

He said the overspend was down to pressure on acute services at Noble’s Hospital.

The department had contingencies if the shortfall continued.

‘There are areas in the department that are currently underspent, compared with where we expected them to be,’ he said.

‘If that continues through the year it gives some leeway in balancing the budget.’

Any such rejigging of spending within the department would not affect frontline services, he said.

Health service costs could be affected by issues such as significant changes in drug costs, or outbreaks of particular illnesses, he said.

Mr Ashford acknowledged the current reliance on ‘bank’ staff was costly and that was an area that was being looked at.

In answer to a Tynwald question from Juan Watterson last week, Mr Ashford said: ‘The department estimates its projected out-turn on a monthly basis, with a more detailed forecast prepared quarterly.

‘There is scope for significant variation in the year-end forecast and the numbers can change by material amounts each month.

‘At the current time it remains too early to provide any certainty over the position. A full reforecast will be prepared after the half year financial position is known, and the outcome of that forecast will be used to determine if we need to notify Treasury of a possible overspend.’

When he took over as health minister at the start of the year, Mr Ashford was given the brief to end the annual cycle of the department being allocated funds in the Budget in one year and then coming back to Tynwald before the end of that financial, to seek more funding after money ran short.

In that last three years, health chiefs have had to seek between £9.5m and £11.1m to make up each annual shortfall.

A full review of costs and services at the Department of Health and Social Care is already under way.

The independent review will look at all aspects, including whether all parts of the health service should remain free.

A public accounts committee report published at the start of this year criticised ‘poor financial management’ at the department but warned against short-term measures that could have ‘long-term implications’.

Source: IOM Today