top of page

Stats, Budgets, Accountability, Public Health: Uncomfortable Bedfellows

This health-related blog was ready to be published until I switched on the local news last night and learned about another Stormont crisis that could be triggered by Robin Swan. Our Health Minister isn't happy about the funding allocation his department received, while UUP party leader Doug Beattie implied that there is a possibility his party might walk out of government. Mr Swan made a big deal about "receiving a 2.3% spending cut"- which was a function of the baseline he used for his calculations rather than the money actually available for spending. Drilling down into the numbers, it turns out the DoH actually receives 53.5% of the whole £14.5 budget. For comparison, Education receives 20%, Justice gets 8.7%, Communities 5.9%, Economy 5.3%, DAERA 4%, Infrastructure 3.9% (the latter two allocations explain why our environment and our local roads are in such a mess), Finance 1.4% and the Executive Office bags 1.3%.

Am I the only one who thinks really at fault here is UK Government policy which has systematically underfunded Northern Ireland and local councils all over the UK for the past 14 years? It does look like Robin Swann is barking up the wrong tree. Rather than complaining about insufficient funding he should find a solution to the rising financial demands within his department.

A couple of blogs ago I wrote about the lack of accountability in the civil service and the public service. That lack of accountability is inefficient and costs money - in the case of the health service, a lot of money. I am not talking about front-line staff being lazy here but about process efficiencies that could be introduced if the whole health system were reviewed and reformed from the ground up. Instead of complaining about having received "only" 54% of the total budget, why doesn't Mr Swan get busy and carry out a fundamental review of how health services are delivered here in Northern Ireland? I suspect one reason he can't manage with over half of the total Northern Ireland budget is that there are too many expensive administrators eating up his budget allocation and not enough doctors and nurses.

Note to Doug Beattie - this is what you get when you appoint someone to the job who previously told everyone he's only going to do it until November: Après moi, le déluge. "Karl Marx and Fyodor Dostoevsky apply the phrase in their writings to describe the selfishness and apathy of certain corrupting values."

In fact, such a review should be carried out by each of the government departments listed in the first paragraph, starting with Infrastructure. Lest we forget - the Groomsport roundabout resurfacing is still on-going. The originally advertised six weeks have now grown to ten, and it's not done yet. Money allocated for Active Travel the DfI spends on plugging potholes instead. See what I mean about a lack of accountability? This is pervasive throughout government departments here.

Groomsport Roundabout last week

Anyway, back to Cycling, the most efficient way of locomotion. Not only is it the quickest way to get from A to B for short journeys, it is totally carbon-neutral and its health and fitness benefits will stand you in good stead throughout your life.

As I researched this blog for Northern Ireland specific data on obesity, I discovered that for the last three years the Department of Health in its infinite wisdom has decided not to publish any data relating to our population's Body Mass Indices.

If you click on the link to the Health Survey NI Trend Tables, open the spreadsheet and then click on the link to the BMI Adults sheet you will end up in a table where the BMI columns (Underweight/Normal weight/Overweight/Obese/Morbidly obese) for 2020/21, 2021/22, and 2022/23 show you "Questions not asked".

Seriously?! Who actually monitors the state of public health if not the Department of Health? On March 28 I contacted my MLA to request clarification from Robin Swann during Questions for Answer. I had planned to wait until next week to follow up on that but yesterday changed my mind - I will do it today. Four weeks should be plenty for the DoH to come up with an excuse... However, I suspect the lack of accountability will rear its ugly head again.

Having looked at the previous years' data, I believe we can safely assume that as over the previous 10 years the trends have been flat, the statistics for 2022/23 won't be hugely different from the last year for which data were available, 2019/20. That year, 65% of adults were classified as "Overweight", "Obese", or "Morbidly Orbese" (38%, 24% and 3% respectively).

Put another way, two thirds of the population here are clinically classified as carrying more weight than is good for them. The alarming long-term effects of this are outlined by the World Health Organization here.

The data for children are equally depressing: more than a third of UK children were either Overweight (16%) or Obese (18%). That certainly helps to explain why so many UK residents are in bad shape.

Ards and North Down Cycle Campaign Group has been involved in setting up Bike Buses at a number of local primary schools. We aim to do the same now for adults through a Bike Buddy Scheme for adults, details of which are available on our website. The goal is to give people the confidence to ride their bikes on short local errands and/or on their commute, reducing green house gasses while improving public health at the same time.

Speaking of of getting people interested in cycling, we should again highlight a hugely compelling project currently under consideration for PEACEPLUS funding - the Bangor Cycle Park (BCP for short). For those who are not familiar with it we have summarised the project on our website.

Bangor Cycle Park will create five new free-to-use cycling facilities within the underutilised areas of the now subsiding former municipal dump Sportsplex site in Bangor: a pump-track, a BMX Racing track, an Inclusive-Cycling Area, a Learn-To-Ride Area, and a Cross-Country mountain bike trail.

That proposal however was not mentioned at all in yesterday's Spectator. In their comments local councillors focused on football and GAA, not realising (?) that BCP would keep the football grounds at the back. It does make one wonder whether councillors actually read the Peaceplus applications in detail. Or do they simply vote along party lines rather than for the benefit of local residents?

The County Down Spectator backpage 25.4.2024

If you agree that BCP would be a valuable addition to Ards and North Down Borough's leisure infrastructure, please let your local councillors know that you wholeheartedly support this project. We have plenty of football pitches in Ards and North Down, but no bike park in this "cycle-friendly borough". It's high time ANDB Council put its money where its mouth is. Councillor contact details are here.

40 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment

Your comments about the civil service are unfortunately absolutely true. The way it is set up means there is no accountability for those who do not pull their weight. Lots of civil servants work very hard, but there are lots who don't. The Post Office enquiry is highlighting lots of bad work.

bottom of page