Karen Bradley: Northern Ireland public deserve to see Executive restored so its decisions build a healthcare system fit for the future
Ahead of the 70th anniversary of the NHS today, I visited the cancer unit at Belfast City Hospital to thank the staff for their hard work, dedication and exceptional care and treatment of the patients.
During a walk around to speak to the patients, I was moved by their praise and admiration for the nurses, doctors and other health professionals who work tirelessly to provide the best possible cancer care, and I left with a deep sense of pride and gratitude for the incredible NHS staff across Northern Ireland who work day in, day out, to change lives.
It brought home to me why the NHS remains one of the United Kingdom's most cherished national institutions and highlighted exactly why this government has made the NHS its top spending priority.
The Prime Minister recently pledged an additional £20.5 billion to the NHS by 2024, which means an extra £760 million a year by 2023/24 for Northern Ireland under the Barnett formula.
This is fantastic news for Northern Ireland, but of course it is not simply a question of additional funding.
It is about the important decisions that need to be taken on a daily basis to ensure this funding is effectively spent and that there's a long-term vision for healthcare in Northern Ireland.
There have been positive developments recently in Northern Ireland, such as the £8.8 million investment in GP care from the NI Department of Health, and £1.6m for emergency care at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry.
But it is clear that what the public deserve and want to see is a restored Executive at the earliest possibility so that locally-elected representatives are making locally-based decisions to build a healthcare system fit for future generations.
Before the institutions were suspended at the beginning of last year, positive progress was being made and a 10-year plan was outlined by the Executive for healthcare in Northern Ireland. It is important that momentum is regained. Only then will the NI Department of Health and the Health and Social Care service be able to decide on the appropriate levels of funding for vital services, such as mental health, early detection and prevention programmes, cutting-edge research, and wider work with local communities to help people in Northern Ireland with their health and well-being.
This kind of genuine, lasting investment in healthcare will clearly be better supported with a fully functioning, local administration - another critical example of why the restoration of devolved government at Stormont remains my number one priority.
So as we reflect on the 70th anniversary of the NHS, let us remember what matters most to a strong society - stable public services which look after those most in need. My hope is that together with the 20th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement this year, these two events act as an important inspiration to us all as we focus on re-establishing a devolved government.
But above all, I want to say thank you to the doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, managers and everyone who keeps health and social care running in Northern Ireland.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my warmest and heartfelt gratitude to everyone who works in Northern Ireland's hospitals, surgeries and care homes.