Paediatricians concerned that children in Northern Ireland are being left behind

Last week Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris set out Stormont's budget for 2023-24.

Normally the budget should be set by Stormont but as there is no power-sharing government the budget has been instead delivered by Westminster. The budget shows no annual increase in health spending at a time when the Department needs at least 6% funding injection just to provide the same services, as well as 2.5% cut in its budget allocation for the Department of Education - just under £70m less in cash terms. These cuts will no doubt be exacerbated by last year's £300m overspend that needs to be paid back by Westminster.

RCPCH is deeply concerned about the impact this budget will have on children and young people in Northern Ireland having already seen a roll back in key children’s programmes over the recent weeks, such as:

  • The Holiday Food Grant Scheme
    • As of 31 March 2023, the highly welcomed ‘School Holiday Food Grant’ scheme which provided a grant of £27 per fortnight, per child, during school holidays, to eligible low-income households where children are entitled to Free School Meals, has been disbanded. This scheme applied during all school holidays, including the long summer holidays and at Christmas and Easter.
  • The Engage Programme
  • The Healthy Happy Minds pilot counselling and therapeutic support programme
  • The Extended Schools Programme

In response to the news/budget allocation, RCPCH Officer for Ireland Dr Ray Nethercott said:

This year’s budget allocation is grim news for those working in child health in Northern Ireland. Funding for health and education has fallen well short of what is needed, and we worry that children and young people will be yet again paying the price.

The rising cost of living is having a devastating impact on families. As paediatricians it’s clear that low-income families and their children are currently bearing the greatest burden. Cutting essential services and programmes now will have disastrous impacts on Northern Ireland’s children and our future society. We know from experience that without support and safety nets we will see children and their families end up at the door of health services and adding further pressure to emergency departments, mental health, and community services.

It’s unthinkable that our budget allocation and its major shortfalls are now in the hands of hard working but unelected civil servants. It’s clear to all that we cannot make progress with political uncertainty; proper leadership is needed now to prioritise and protect children so that they will thrive, prosper, and live happy and healthy lives.

Yesterday, 2 May 2023, we wrote to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt Hon Chris Heaton-Harris MP. You can view and download this letter below.