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Health Minister Simon Hamilton says whether he's in the Executive or not has 'no bearing on the standard of health care'

By Claire Williamson

Published 08/10/2015

Simon Hamilton
Simon Hamilton

Stormont's 'absent' health minister has claimed that whether he is in post or not has "no bearing on the standard of health care people receive in Northern Ireland".

DUP MLA Simon Hamilton has been under increasing pressure to return to his post full-time as minister of health.

He is one of the so-called 'in-out'  DUP ministers who are undergoing a cycle of renominating ministers within a week, and resigning again in a bid to protect the roles being taken by other parties.

DUP leader Peter Robinson resigned all ministers except for Arlene Foster who is continuing as finance minister during the ongoing Stormont crisis.

The crisis was sparked by the political crisis after the Chief Constable said members of the Provisional IRA were involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph this week Mr Hamilton said it is "nonsense" to suggest his absence was damaging our care system.

He then told the BBC Nolan show: "You know full well that me being in post or not has no bearing on the standard of health care that people are receiving.

"Health care is delivered by doctors, it is delivered by nurses and other members of staff, they are continuing to deliver that high standard of care whether I am in post or not."

He added: "The point of the health minister is giving strategic direction and taking decisions."

Mr Hamilton outlined a series of decisions that have been taken recently which includes approved funding for NICE drugs and treatment, progress towards establishing a specialist permanent in-patient unit for people suffering from eating disorders and establishing a GP taskforce to look at pressures and challenges facing GPs in Northern Ireland.

Mr Hamilton said that he is still able to take those decisions while he is not in post full-time but added that he would "rather be in post full-time".

He said: "Is it ideal? No it's not.  Is it perfect? No it's not. would I rather be in post full-time? Yes I would. But we cannot be in post full-time until  progress is made in the talks to resolve those issues around paramilitary activity and to resolve those issues around finance and our budget."

Mr Hamilton has been criticised further for not attending an assembly debate on cancer waiting list times.

He said: "We made it clear there was not going to be business as usual.

"It is an incredibly important issue, a very serious issue. Grandstanding is not going to solve the issues that are before us. We made it clear that in the circumstances we found ourselves in, it couldn't be business as usual.

"I want to get to grips with many of the issues we have around waiting lists. But we cannot do that whether I'm in post full-time or not.

"If we do not resolve the issues around welfare reform we are not going to be able to tackle waiting lists.

"Welfare reform penalties equals growing waiting lists, it's as simple as that."

He added: "I can understand the frustration people have. I want to be back in post. I would rather be back in post.

"I hope that in the not too distant future we can see sufficient progress being made which will let us get back into post in time."

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