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The head of Northern Ireland's health services has warned that private sector cash will eventually have to be found to overcome the NHS's 'intractable problems'.

Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety permanent secretary Clive Gowdy claimed the country's politicians had 'set their faces' against private sector funding.

But he told delegates to the Institute of Healthcare Management conference in Belfast last week: 'Personally, I think devolution offers the possibility that some of these intractable problems may eventually merge into solutions.

'If we are not able to fund everything we need - and It is clear that money will not be coming from the usual sources - it forces us to think in new ways.

'The use of private money becomes a factor, even though at the moment our politicians - as in Scotland and Wales - have set their faces against using too much privately secured money.'

He said politicians believed quality and care issues were better handled in the public sector but, with the challenges involved, the private sector could have a role to play.

Northern Ireland health minister Bairbre de Brun has reiterated her previous demands for investment to match NHS funding in the rest of the UK.