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Robin Swann ‘hampered by unknown budget’ amid health crisis as £300m Treasury pot awaits Stormont approval

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Northern Ireland's Health Minister Robin Swann in Cookstown in County Tyrone. A new 10-year cancer strategy aims to ensure that everyone in Northern Ireland has timely access to diagnosis, treatment and care, health minister Robin Swann has said. Picture date: Tuesday March 22, 2022.

Northern Ireland's Health Minister Robin Swann in Cookstown in County Tyrone. A new 10-year cancer strategy aims to ensure that everyone in Northern Ireland has timely access to diagnosis, treatment and care, health minister Robin Swann has said. Picture date: Tuesday March 22, 2022.

PA

Northern Ireland's Health Minister Robin Swann in Cookstown in County Tyrone. A new 10-year cancer strategy aims to ensure that everyone in Northern Ireland has timely access to diagnosis, treatment and care, health minister Robin Swann has said. Picture date: Tuesday March 22, 2022.

Health Minister Robin Swann has said he is "hampered by the unknown" in addressing difficulties in the health service due to the lack of budget.

Speaking to the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme, the health minister said a "dedicated and committed workforce" wants the system to function - and denied investment in the current system would be futile before wide-scale reform.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy has said a pot of £300m from the Treasury cannot be spent without Executive approval. A planned multi-year budget which would have prioritised spending in health has not been progressed due to the collapse of the powersharing institutions at Stormont.

The health minister on Tuesday said it was “hard to imagine a worse possible time to deprive our health service of budgetary certainty” in a written statement to MLAs providing an update on reform of services. He said further delays to a Stormont budget will further damage the health service rebuild.

Current difficulties such as lengthy waiting lists are the result of ten years of underinvestment, Mr Swann said. "I'm currently hampered by the unknown, which is my budget. I'm already the first quarter in to this financial year and [...] I'm still unaware what the financial budget will be.”

"If somebody needs to see a GP they will see a GP," he added.Changes to the system require sustained investment, he said, and an increase in GP training places is a measure that's been put in place to address difficulties.

On Covid, Mr Swann said he and other UK health ministers are taking a "proportional response" to rising case numbers. "We're not seeing the same translation from positive cases to hospitalisation and ICU demand that we have seen with previous variants. We do think we're at the peak of this current wave and coming down.

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"We are preparing a booster programme starting in the autumn which will possibly be running at the same time as our flu vaccination programme," he said.

When asked about recent inquiries such as Muckamore and Dr Michael Watt, Mr Swann said: "There are challenges across our system we need to face up to. Reform is necessary and needs to be done."

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Sinn Fein's health spokesperson Colm Gildernew said an Executive must be formed now to invest the extra £1 billion needed to start fixing the health service and deliver a three year budget.

“The stark warning from the health minister is another clear indication that work to invest in our health service and deliver a three year budget must start now.

“People waiting on life-changing treatments and people stuck on hospital waiting lists cannot be left behind because of one party’s refusal to make politics work," he said

“All parties agreed to make a health a priority in the Executive. It’s time to make that happen. Let’s get around the table and give the health service the investment it needs as quickly as possible. That must be the immediate priority.”


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