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NI NHS facing emerging financial crisis and does not have funds to tackle spiralling waiting lists: Swann


Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

The basic principle of the NHS is under threat due to the emerging financial crisis facing the health service in Northern Ireland.

In a grim warning to his MLA colleagues at Stormont on Tuesday morning, Health Minister Robin Swann said the current draft budget means he cannot begin to address Northern Ireland's waiting list shame.

In a devastating blow to the hundreds of thousands of people waiting in pain for hospital treatment, the UUP MLA said: "Our health service prides itself on being available to all, free at the point of access.

"I will today contend that we are in grave danger of undermining this essential feature of our health service. With ever growing waiting lists – I would question whether all of our citizens have adequate access to the health services they need?"

Mr Swann made the comments as he outlined plans to rebuild the health service following the most recent deadly Covid-19 surge.

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He rejected claims that lockdown has contributed to spiralling hospital waiting lists.

He said: "It was not lockdown that added to waiting lists and led to much-needed operations being postponed. It was the virus.

"Our system, like systems all over the world, simply could not maintain a normal service, given the surge in patients requiring life-saving and immediate intervention. Staff had to be redeployed. Agonising choices had to be made."

The impact of the pandemic has resulted in hospital waiting lists increasing significantly in the past year.

According to the most recent Department of Health statistics, 167,806 people had been waiting longer than 52 weeks for a first outpatient appointment at the end of last year.

Mr Swann said health bosses are developing a range of plans to tackle waiting times but said he needs a "recurrent funding commitment" to ensure the situation can be addressed.

Without this, he said Northern Ireland "will be fighting the scourge of waiting lists with at least one hand tied behind our backs".

While Mr Swann said the 2021/22 budget allocation was disappointing for all departments, he described it as "extremely disappointing" for cash-strapped health chiefs.

He continued: "Tragically, as it stands, I cannot make any sustainable inroads into improving the waiting list position I have just outlined.

"The present funding model which we operate within is not fit for purpose. What is really needed is a multi-year budget and unfortunately the Executive hasn't received this from Westminster.

"Failure to tackle the elective care waiting lists would not just impact on those currently waiting, it will impact on all those who need access in the future.

"This issue affects us all. It would also be morally reprehensible as we must not lose sight of the fact that for the last five to six years, despite all the advances in medication and technologies, that growing numbers of people have been coming to harm because they haven't been receiving the treatment they deserve.

"Who does not have a loved one, a friend, or a relative who at some point, either now or in the future, will need to access an elective procedure?

"However, without a significant and recurrent funding commitment from the Executive, I fear that we will be severely restricted in our ability to deliver.

"I cannot think of a more pressing issue facing us than waiting times. It cries out for action. It is a daily rebuke to the standing of this House and to the reputation of politics."

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