Robin Swann has said he is unable to award pay rises to health workers across Northern Ireland without an agreed budget.
While the Health Minister has said he will accept the recommendations by the independent pay bodies, he cannot announce the immediate implementation of the pay award because of the lack of an Executive.
The development is likely to infuriate healthcare workers here as it could lead to a break in pay parity with the rest of the UK – one of the key drivers for the crippling strike action by NHS employees in Northern Ireland in 2019 and 2020.
On Tuesday, the government announced it had accepted recommendations in full from the independent NHS pay review bodies.
It will see over one million NHS staff, including nurses, paramedics and midwives, to get a pay rise of at least £1,400 with lowest earners receiving up to 9.3%.
Eligible dentists and doctors will receive a 4.5% pay rise.
Announcing its decision, the government said the “pay rise recognises the contribution of NHS staff while balancing the need to protect taxpayers, manage public spending and not drive up inflation.”
Mr Swann issued a statement on Wednesday morning, in which he said: “I have considered the recommendations made by both bodies and would be content to recommend acceptance of these awards.
“In relation to the Agenda for Change Pay Award, this would maintain the previous commitments made by the Executive to maintain pay parity with NHS pay in England.
“However, unlike my colleagues in other parts of the UK, I am unable to announce the immediate implementation of these pay awards locally as Northern Ireland still does not have an agreed Executive Budget for 2022/23.
“Equally I welcome and support the recent letter from the three devolved Finance Ministers asking the Chancellor to increase budgets to address pay and other pressures, including in the health service.”
However, even if Mr Swann is able to implement the pay rise in line with the rest of the UK, health unions have already signalled their discontent at the amounts that will be paid to their members.
Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association’s Northern Ireland Council, has said the organisation is seeking an urgent meeting with Mr Swann to discuss the pay award for doctors here.
The union is also set to survey members on their opinions on the pay award.
“BMA has repeatedly said doctors need to be paid properly,” he said.
“What we have seen to date in Northern Ireland have been real terms pay cuts, that were continually paid to doctors months after they were agreed.
“This, combined with punitive pensions rules, does not make doctors feel valued, particularly when you consider the huge effort they put in during the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, just hours after the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) branded the NHS pay award a “grace misstep”, nursing staff across England will be balloted on industrial action.
This is likely to be followed by the RCN in other parts of the UK.
RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen said on Tuesday night: "This is yet another pay cut in real terms and we’re clear that nursing deserves better.
"Tonight, an emergency session of your elected Council voted that members in England will be balloted on industrial action.
"After years of underpayment and staff shortages, the fight for fair pay must continue. Your voice in the upcoming ballot will be essential to turning the tide on low pay.
"Their announcement tried desperately to mislead the public on nursing pay. We need your help in calling it out.
"This pay award does not help you with the rising cost of living – inflation is rising much higher.
It will do nothing to help to recruit or retain more nursing staff where you work.
“It does not recognise the skill and responsibility of the job you do. Sadly, it will not keep patients safe."