Cross-border fraudsters ‘abusing’ Northern Irish health service
Up to 80,000 more people could be registered to use the NHS in Northern Ireland than live in the province, according to a new anti-fraud drive launched by Edwin Poots, the Health Minister at Stormont. If true, this could be costing the province anywhere from £48 million to over £250 million.
UK residents are entitled to free NHS care in the six counties, and NI residents are issued medical cards which confirm their eligibility for such treatment. Citizens of the Republic of Ireland, under ordinary circumstances, are not. Unlike the UK, Irish healthcare is not always free at the point of delivery. Some homes along the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic have far more people registered for medical cards than could reasonably be expected to be living there – sometimes with different surnames.
As well as being a drain on Northern Ireland’s overstretched finances, such fraud is particularly baffling because an Irish citizen on UK soil will receive medical treatment free of charge in any event, with the bill being recouped from the Irish exchequer.
Whilst the Department of Health does have an anti-fraud unit, until now it has apparently been too resource-starved to be effective. With the extraordinary costs of fraud to the provincial health budget being discussed, that looks like a very false saving indeed.
Saturday courts a human rights requirement, MSP’s told
Legal experts are urging members of the Scottish Parliament to legislate for courts to operate on Saturdays, in order as not to breach Section 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which pertains to the ‘right to liberty’.
Currently, there is a risk that a suspect held on a Friday might not reach court until the Monday or, if a bank holiday, the Tuesday. Lord Carloway, author of a recent review into Scots law, argued that Saturday openings could be part of ‘radical reforms’ to ensure that nobody was held before a court appearance for more than 36 hours. However, his report did not reach firm conclusions on the topic and the Criminal Justice Bill currently before the Scottish Parliament makes no provision for them.
Any move to introduce Saturday openings will be a major blow to the Nationalist government’s drive to cut the criminal justice budget. This already includes the outright closure of 17 courts, a move opponents claim will only exacerbate even further the problems with pre-trial detention times.
‘Elaborate hoax’ sees false bomb outside offices of Alliance MP
Police carried out a controlled detonation on a suspicious bag discovered outside the office of Belfast East MP Naomi Long, but subsequently declared it a hoax. The bag, discovered by a council worker on a disabled ramp outside the building, contained a sweet tin which could have housed an explosive device.
This may be part of a continued pattern of loyalist attacks on Ms Long’s Alliance Party after its pivotal role in last year’s Belfast flag dispute, where it allied with nationalist parties to vote to stop the City Hall flying the Union Flag all year round. In the aftermath of that attack, Long’s offices were firebombed.
Although the bag was merely a scare tactic, it did necessitate the evacuation of the office and road closures, and Long condemned the “major stress and disruption” produced by such tactics – although such is surely their point.
SNP nationalise loss-making airport
The Scottish government has announced its intention to take Glasgow Prestwick airport into public ownership. The airport has been up for sale since last March and currently runs at a loss of £2 million pounds a year. Its New Zealand-based owners were considering closing the airport, a move the SNP claim would have cost up to 1,400 jobs.
Both the Scottish Conservatives and the local Labour MP, Brian Donohoe, seem to agree that the primary reason for the airport’s stagnation is under-investment. The former warned the SNP to spend intelligently rather than simply sinking public money into the site, and urged an early return to private hands. Donohoe believes that it should be almost given away to any developer willing and able to spend the necessary money upgrading it properly. It remains to be seen whether the Scottish government is up to the challenge.