The Northern Ireland health service needs an extra £661m to maintain existing services and to tackle the waiting list crisis, Health Minister Robin Swann has warned.
Mr Swann, who has now been in the position for one month, said that £492m will be needed to maintain existing services with a further £169m needed to deliver on promises in the New Decade, New Approach agreement which saw Stormont returned after three years.
The deal promises to reduce waiting times and invest in social care.
The health minister said that introducing pay parity and increased staffing levels is estimated to cost £170m.
Mr Swann said: “The 2020/21 budget which health receives next month will be crucial. My department requires a £492 million increase on this year’s budget just to meet the inescapable costs of maintaining existing service levels with no growth in transformation, and meet the Agenda for Change pay award and safe staffing costs.
“Let’s be clear what maintaining existing service levels means. It means another year of frustration and falling short of public expectations – with gaps in provision and unmet need growing.
“In terms of waiting lists, it would allow a focus on red flag and urgent cases such as suspected cancer but overall the current totally unacceptable waiting list position would be unlikely to improve.”
The health minister said he believed the public are entitled to demand "more and better" from the health service and that the return of power-sharing had raised expectations.
This £169 million total includes much-needed investment in enhancing and developing servicesHealth Minister Robin Swann
"To deliver the health and social care commitments in the document would require a projected further £169 million - on top of the funding required for the inescapable costs for existing service levels," he said.
“This £169 million total includes much-needed investment in enhancing and developing services. It covers, for example, vital funding for enhancing and reforming social care, growing the social care workforce and improving its pay levels.
“In terms of hospital waiting lists, New Decade New Approach states that no-one waiting over a year at 30 September 2019 for outpatient or inpatient assessment/treatment will still be on a waiting list by March 2021.
“This commitment alone will cost in the region of £50 million. It should be seen as a first step in dealing with the waiting list crisis.
"To get to a more sustainable position will need sustained additional investment over future years to not only deal with backlogs but bring about much needed change.”
Mr Swann said his ability to improve struggling services will be heavily dependent on the budget allocation received by his department next month.