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Simon Hamilton pledges DUP will pump an extra £1bn into NHS over six years

By Noel McAdam

Published 21/11/2015

Commitment: Simon Hamilton
Commitment: Simon Hamilton

The DUP would inject an extra £1bn into the health service by the end of 2021, the party's annual conference has heard.

At the opening session of the two-day gathering, Health Minister Simon Hamilton announced the commitment "to seek to increase spending on health by at least £1bn by the end of the next Assembly term".

Claiming the province could have a world-class health and care service, he also hit out at "scary headlines" claiming the NHS is in meltdown and at breaking point as "downright wrong".

"There are plenty of naysayers and doom merchants out there who delight in doing down our NHS," he argued.

"But not only do they not know what they're talking about, not only are they just downright wrong, they insult the thousands of staff across our health and social care system who are doing an amazing job in challenging circumstances.

"It is these same purveyors of pessimism who could also be the biggest roadblock to reforming our NHS."

The Strangford MLA said some sought to undermine proposed reforms "for no other reason than they emanate from the DUP".

"We are well used now to the opportunists standing in the way of change. But I believe that above all what stops them from embracing reform, why they oppose change, is because they simply lack courage."

Mr Hamilton said he will eliminate an entire layer of bureaucracy in abolishing the Health and Social Care Board and will appoint a panel of independent experts for advice on developing the service.

In another speech, new Regional Development Minister Michelle McIlveen - who took up the office after Ulster Unionists withdrew their sole Minister, Danny Kennedy, from the Executive - claimed she is already tackling a backlog of problems.

"Since taking office at Regional Development, the DUP has been able to start to get our potholes fixed, repair our street lights, clear our road gullies, strim roadside branches and cut roadside grass," she said.

Their speeches came as outgoing DUP leader Peter Robinson urged the smaller Executive parties to back the 'Fresh Start' Stormont deal reached last week.

But he also warned his party and Sinn Fein have sufficient numbers to push implementation of the new agreement though the Assembly.

The gathering got under way yesterday - 48 hours after Mr Robinson's bombshell announcement in the Belfast Telegraph that he is to stand down as both party leader and First Minister - and he said he believed there is a new determination between the two biggest parties.

The Ulster Unionists and SDLP have yet to give their definitive verdicts on the agreement, although it appears they are likely to oppose it, while Alliance could, despite reservations, give its support.

"It has been a very long time since we realised that if we are going to make any advance in Northern Ireland, if we are going to move Northern Ireland forward, we have to be working together to do that," Mr Robinson told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Unless you have sufficient parties in the Assembly to do that and get things through the Assembly and Executive you simply won't succeed. I think there is a determination that we do make progress. There certainly is a massive desire for it out in the community.

"We (SF and DUP) have sufficient numbers but we hope that others will join us. You really do know when you have got a good agreement. You have got a good agreement when your political opponents can only argue about the process and what is not in it."

He added: "There is nobody out there on the unionist side who is saying 'what you did is wrong'. What they are saying is 'we don't like the way it has been bounced on us'. That is despite the fact that these aren't new issues and we have been dealing with them for years."

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