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‘Appalling’ waiting lists must be tackled

Health Minister Robin Swann has said more investment is needed in order to fix ‘appalling’ waiting lists and pressure on the health service in Northern Ireland.

In a statement made to the Assembly, Mr Swann also said that the Covid 19 pandemic had highlighted serious flaws in our health and social care system which need immediate attention.:

“I am absolutely determined to put this right. But as I will argue today, I cannot do this alone. I need the support of this House and my Executive colleagues if we are to address our absolutely dire waiting lists.”

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“Our health service prides itself on being available to all, free at the point of access. I will today contend that we are in grave danger of undermining this essential feature of our health service. With ever growing waiting lists – I would question whether all of our citizens have adequate access to the health services they need?”

Mr Swann informed MLAs that detailed plans are being finalised on both waiting times and cancer care. These will shortly be issued for public consultation, as will a review of urgent and emergency care.

“To address this burning issue, I will in the near future be publishing for consultation a cancer recovery plan, an elective care framework and the urgent and emergency care review. Our great staff want us to be ambitious about the future of health and social care.

“They want us to build back better, to learn the lessons of the pandemic in terms of capacity, resilience and investment. I share that ambition 100 per cent. I believe the people of Northern Ireland do too.

“However, without a significant and recurrent funding commitment from the Executive, I fear that we will be severely restricted in our ability to deliver. We will be fighting the scourge of waiting lists with at least one hand tied behind our backs.

“We must start putting this right. It is a long-term task and it needs long-term, recurrent funding.”

SINGLE YEAR BUDGETS

The minister added that the fact that the health service in NI is currently structured around single year budgets leads to recruitment difficulties.

“The present funding model which we operate within is not fit for purpose. What is really needed is a multi-year budget and unfortunately the Executive hasn’t received this from Westminster.”

He continued: “To properly put waiting lists right, we will clearly need more staff in our health service. But how can you recruit additional people to the workforce if there’s no certainty you’ll have the money to keep paying them next year?

“How do you sign up more young people for the required years of training on the basis of single year funding?

“I recognise there are many pressing rival demands on the public purse in Northern Ireland. Huge issues face every Department. I fully accept that the Executive has limited room for manoeuvre in budget terms. Decisions are taken in London and we have to play the cards we are dealt.

“However, I cannot think of a more pressing issue facing us than waiting times. It cries out for action. It is a daily rebuke to the standing of this House and to the reputation of politics.

“It leaves thousands and thousands of our people in avoidable pain – our fellow citizens, our neighbours. We owe it to them to do much, much better.”

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