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Health minister urges party leaders to help tackle waiting list crisis

The health minister has contacted all political leaders asking for agreement to release £31 million to tackle the waiting list crisis.

Michelle O'Neill was accused of electioneering after she published a plan to help reduce the large number of patients waiting longer than a year for treatment, despite a lack of budget.

However, the minister has now written to all party leaders seeking their support for her ambitious plan to reform the struggling health service.

A major part of that plan is an attempt to deal with the thousands of patients who have been waiting more than 52 weeks for a first outpatient appointment and inpatient day treatment.

On Tuesday Mrs O'Neill said £31 million was needed immediately to address the problem. However, due to the crisis at Stormont no budget has been agreed and questions have been raised by opposition parties over where the money would be secured from.

But Mrs O'Neill has urged all party leaders to support her proposals and help release the £31 million.

She said their support would provide "clear political direction" for the Department of Finance permanent secretary should he have to take control of public finances if the political institutions are not reinstated after the March elections.

"It is essential that we provide the maximum protection possible for our public services despite the current political crisis," Mrs O'Neill said.

Currently, an estimated 40,000 people are waiting more that 52 weeks for a first outpatient appointment. Around 8,000 patients are waiting longer than a year for day care inpatient treatment.

Outlining her vision on how to transform health and social care services in the region, Mrs O'Neill said £31 million would clear the backlog, by March 2018, of patients waiting more than 52 weeks for a first outpatient appointment and inpatient/day case at March 2017.

In addition, the backlog of patients waiting more than 26 weeks at March 2017 for diagnostics would also be cleared by March 2018.

Bolstering primary care is another priority, Mrs O'Neill said.

On Tuesday Ulster Unionist candidate Jo-Anne Dobson accused the Sinn Fein minister of "cruelly engaging in pre-election stunts".

Alliance candidate Paula Bradshaw questioned where the funding will come from.

DUP candidate Paula Bradley said the proposals were "already impacted by the failure of the Finance Minister to bring forward budget proposals to the Executive and by Sinn Fein's decision to bring down the Assembly and force an election".

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