O'Neill asks parties for £31m to tackle waiting list crisis
The Health Minister has contacted all political leaders asking for agreement to release £31m to tackle the waiting list crisis, it has emerged.
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 not having a 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 the proposal 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 £31m 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 come from.
But Mrs O'Neill urged all party leaders to support her proposal and give their backing to releasing the funding.
She said their backing would provide "clear political direction" for the Department of Finance's 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 daycare inpatient treatment.
Outlining her vision of how to transform health and social care services, Mrs O'Neill said £31m would clear the backlog of patients waiting more than 52 weeks for a first outpatient appointment and inpatient/day case by March 2018.
In addition, the backlog of patients waiting more than 26 weeks for diagnostics would also be cleared by the same date.
Bolstering primary care was another urgent priority, Mrs O'Neill said.
However, on Tuesday, Ulster Unionist MLA and health spokeswoman Jo-Anne Dobson accused the Sinn Fein minister of "cruelly engaging in pre-election stunts".
"Michelle O'Neill can state as often as she likes that she is concerned about (waiting lists), but the unavoidable reality is that for the last eight months she has failed to do anything about them," she said.
Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw, meanwhile, raised questions about where the money would come from.
And DUP MLA 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".