Health Minister Simon Hamilton: Hard-working health staff deserve this 1% rise in pay
Since becoming Health Minister last May I have become acutely aware of the immensity of the challenges facing my department. That includes having to make some tough choices and difficult decisions, balancing a range of competing pressures for my department's limited resources.
I am proud of the fact that, over the last five years, we have increased our spending on health from £4.3 billion to in excess of £4.8bn.
We have invested that extra money in the front line - especially in increasing staff levels.
I am proud that, since 2010/11, we have employed:
• 1,191 more nurses and midwives.
• 523 health professionals.
• 275 more consultants.
Those additional staff and their thousands of colleagues perform heroically in what are often very pressurised circumstances.
A few weeks ago I announced that I had asked the NHS Pay Review Body and the Doctors and Dentists' Review Body for recommendations in respect of a 2016/17 pay award for staff across Northern Ireland's health and social care system.
I did so after discussing the issue in depth with the Royal College of Nursing, which welcomed my announcement. I firmly believed that, after some difficult years in which we were unable to agree a pay award for health and social care staff, asking the independent pay review bodies for a recommendation was the right way forward.
I have now received copies of the reports of both independent bodies. The NHS Pay Review Body Report suggested that certain economic factors "could point towards the option of a nil award", and it stated that it had seen no evidence to say that large numbers of staff were leaving Northern Ireland because of pay.
However, both bodies have recommended a 1% increase for health and social care staff and salaried doctors and dentists in Northern Ireland, in line with the award across the rest of the United Kingdom.
I am happy to confirm that I am accepting these recommendations for a 1% pay award.
I know that some will, perhaps, think that they should get a higher pay rise than 1%.
The independent pay review bodies have examined a mountain of evidence and come to their conclusion, and I am content to honour that.
It will, of course, be challenging in what are tough budgetary times to find the funds to meet this award. But on this issue I am clear that this is an appropriate and affordable award for our hard-working staff - the vast majority of whom, I am sure, will warmly welcome this decision.
I believe that I have addressed this issue in the fairest way and have come to a prompt decision that will give health and social care staff like nurses, midwives, allied health professionals and others some certainty about what their pay will be next year.
I will now endeavour to ensure that this pay award makes its way into staff pay packets as quickly as possible.
My main focus is - and always will be - ensuring the best possible outcomes for patients and people who use our health service. They should be our number one priority.
But it is also important that our hard-working health and social care staff receive a pay award that recognises the efforts they make and, by agreeing to implement the independent pay review bodies' recommendations, I have done that.
Simon Hamilton MLA is Health Minister