Marking his first month in office, Health Minister Robin Swann has spelt out the extent of the funding pressures facing health and social care in Northern Ireland.
The Minister said his ability to start cutting waiting lists – and tackle other serious problems – will be dependent on the budget received by his Department next month.
Mr Swann stated: “I took on this job because I want to make a difference. I believe I have made a good start. Within days of taking office, industrial action by three unions was suspended, following important pay and staffing commitments made with Executive-wide support. I have also helped lead an Executive response on mental well-being and suicide prevention.
“There are, however, deep-seated problems across the health and social care system that will take years to put right. This will require major investment on a sustained basis – along with transformation reforms.”
Mr Swann set out a projected minimum funding requirement of £661m to maintain existing services and meet New Decade New Approach commitments. This includes the NI Executive commitments on pay parity and staffing – which involve an estimated £170m.
The Minister continued: “The 2020/21 budget which health receives next month will be crucial. My Department requires a £492m increase on this year’s budget just to meet the inescapable costs of maintaining existing service levels with no growth in Transformation, and meet the Agenda for Change pay award and safe staffing costs.”
“Let’s be clear what maintaining existing service levels means. It means another year of frustration and falling short of public expectations – with gaps in provision and unmet need growing.
“In terms of waiting lists, it would allow a focus on red flag and urgent cases such as suspected cancer but overall the current totally unacceptable waiting list position would be unlikely to improve.”
Mr Swann added: “I believe the public are entitled to demand more and better. I also acknowledge that the New Decade New Approach document has raised expectations significantly.
“To deliver the health and social care commitments in the document would require a projected further £169m - on top of the funding required for the inescapable costs for existing service levels.
“This £169m total includes much-needed investment in enhancing and developing services. It covers, for example, vital funding for enhancing and reforming social care, growing the social care workforce and improving its pay levels.
“In terms of hospital waiting lists, New Decade New Approach states that no-one waiting over a year at 30 September 2019 for outpatient or inpatient assessment/treatment will still be on a waiting list by March 2021.
“This commitment alone will cost in the region of £50m. It should be seen as a first step in dealing with the waiting list crisis. To get to a more sustainable position will need sustained additional investment over future years to not only deal with backlogs but bring about much needed change.”
Mr Swann said he accepted other Departments and frontline public services are also facing serious financial pressures.
“I appreciate that some £492m to maintain existing services and a further £169m to meet New Decade New Approach commitments is a significant ask.
“I very much welcome the priority attached to health by Executive colleagues both in public and in private. We are all facing up to the scale of the challenges in our Departments. I certainly owe it to patients and their families to be frank with them. My ability to start reducing waiting times and improve other struggling services will be heavily dependent on the budget allocation received by my Department next month.”
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