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Full extent of cash crisis facing Health Minister laid bare

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Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

The looming cash crisis for new Health Minister Robin Swann has been spelt out in a Department of Finance 'factsheet' - with almost £500m needed just to cope just for next year.

While the headline figure attached to the proposed financial package accompanying the New Decade, New Approach deal has been trumpeted as worth £2bn, the briefing paper from Finance Minister Conor Murphy's office says that in reality it is much lower.

Spelling out the financial iceberg that lies ahead as Stormont tries to balance books and prioritise spending, the publication states the package will in fact see £760m of new funding over five years, when health needs at least £493m next year alone.

It states: "The Executive's Budget for everyday spending this year (2019/20) is £530m less than pre-austerity levels (2010/11).

"Of the £2bn proposed by the British Government, half is future Barnett consequentials which would be received regardless of New Decade, New Approach.

"Of the remaining £1bn, some £240m is money previously committed under the Confidence and Supply Agreement. This leaves £760m of new funding potentially spread over five years.

"This would on average equate to £152m per year. The Department of Health indicates that the health service needs at least £493m next year alone (2020/21) to meet inescapable pressures including the recent pay award."

The £240m of funds already committed that is set to be allocated relates to £150m for broadband roll-out, £60m towards severe deprivation and £30m for mental health.

The Finance Minister has already warned that Northern Ireland will be kept in an "austerity trap" unless the government's financial package is increased.

Conor Murphy claimed the money on offer does nothing to fix problems with health and education and had earlier described the package as an "act of bad faith". One of the issues on the table is that money will go to resolving the health workers' pay and staffing dispute which saw strike action.

Some unions - Unison, Unite and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) - suspended strike action on Thursday following talks with the Department of Health.

The Health Minister, Robin Swann, who earlier in the week offered £30m to restore pay parity, said the news would "be welcomed by many, not least by patients and of course staff who took industrial action with a very heavy heart".

But NIPSA has said they are not happy with the deal and said that further industrial action from their members is on the cards. On Radio Ulster yesterday their spokesman Patrick Mulholland said: "Our view of the offer on the table is that it does not deal with the fundamental issue of pay and it does not deal with the fundamental issue of safe staffing."

Also yesterday, the Finance Minister spoke by telephone to Alison Millar, NIPSA's general secretary, ahead of a meeting between scheduled for next week.

Minister Murphy said: " My meeting with Alison next week will allow me to hear at first hand the views of her members. I am fully committed to meaningful engagement with our trade union colleagues."

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