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O'Neill asks for time and money to tackle hospital waiting list crisis

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 07/06/2016

Plea: Michelle O’Neill
Plea: Michelle O’Neill

Significant extra funding is needed to address escalating hospital waiting times, the Health Minister said yesterday.

In her first speech to the Assembly as minister, Michelle O'Neill said "radical reform" was needed to tackle the stresses facing the local NHS.

The Sinn Fein MLA described hospital waiting times as "completely unacceptable" and said she needed "time, new investment and radical change to deliver services".

She also indicated that while money would be sought via Stormont's June monitoring round, extra funding on top of that would be required.

"I assure the Assembly, patients and their families, that long waiting times are completely unacceptable to me," Ms O'Neill said.

"However, I will need time, new investment and radical change in how we deliver services to create the conditions for a sustainable health service and the better outcomes that we all want to see."

The minister revealed that the extra £3m allocated to addressing the waiting times crisis last November had helped around 80,000 patients.

Ms O'Neill also indicated she was ready to take on the findings of the Bengoa health service review, the results of which will be published this month.

Among the questions she faced from the political benches was one from Alliance Party MLA Chris Lyttle, who asked what "specific radical reform she plans to deliver that her predecessor did not?"

Ms O'Neill replied she recognised the speed of change to the system was not quick enough.

"I want to take the body of work that Professor Bengoa has been involved with and actually seriously transform our health service, otherwise we will be having this debate time and time again," the Health Minister said.

"The only way we are going to get that is to have real pace of change and real meaningful change that actually reconfigures how we deliver services.

"That's my priority in the time ahead, and that is the legacy I want to leave in this department."

But Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said she was disappointed at the lack of details about how the minister would source the additional investment.

"What will she do if this funding is not forthcoming?" Ms Bradshaw asked.

"There was also talk about the need for more people to be treated in the community. However, when I pushed the minister for details of financial resources she will be allocating within this financial year to increase the capacity in infrastructure and human resources, she was unable to provide any details."

Her comments came ahead of a debate today on a motion tabled by the UUP concerning the waiting times crisis.

The motion highlights that with 376,382 people waiting for a first outpatient appointment, diagnostic test or inpatient treatment as of March 31, 2016, the situation "remains considerably worse than 12 months previously".

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