A fully functioning Stormont Executive is needed to agree the investment to transform the health service, Michelle O’Neill has said.
Health Minister Robin Swann earlier unveiled a major plan for hospital services, described as a significant step toward reconfiguring the region’s under-pressure health service.
Northern Ireland currently has the longest hospital waiting lists in the UK and experts have warned that the current structures are not sustainable.
Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill warned later that without a fully functioning Executive, the spending power of ministers is hampered.
Ministers are currently in position in caretaker role while the DUP refuses to nominate new ministers following last month’s Stormont election.
They cannot make major policies or agree the planned first multi-year budget in recent years.
The DUP is calling for action from the UK government addressing their concerns around the Northern Ireland Protocol before re-entering the Executive.
Ms O’Neill said the lack of an Executive is having real-life consequences.
She pledged to see a new Executive and to invest an extra £1 billion in health over the next three years that will help to tackle lengthy waiting lists, hire more doctors and nurses and fund vital health services; and to also work with RCN to address the very real concerns of nurses
Ms O’Neill made the comments while addressing the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Nurse of the Year Awards.
She told those gathered she appreciated the strain and pressure of working through the coronavirus pandemic, the impact on their families, and thanked them for their efforts.
She also welcomed the call by the RCN for the immediate restoration of the Executive, adding she is willing to do so without further delay.
“No Executive is having real life consequences,” she said.
“It is hampering the spending power of ministers to deal with the rising cost-of-living crisis and agreeing a three-year budget to fund our health service.
“As nurses on the front line, you know better than most that our health and social care system is under huge strain and pressure.
“Your concerns and indeed those of the broader health and social care workforce, have been articulated clearly and consistently.”
Ms O’Neill said she is committed to seeing progress on the Nursing and Midwifery Task Group recommendation, progress on the recent Department of Health nursing and midwifery retention report recommendations and progress on the safe staffing legislation which the previous Executive committed to.
She also said she wants to see progress on the delivery of a workforce plan to begin to address existing staff vacancies in the system and to build a workforce to meet the future health needs of people here.
She said: “These are all key elements in dealing with the challenges facing health services and will be key metrics that will be determine progress.
“As First Minister designate – I am absolutely committed to getting an Executive established without further delay so that we can get down to business and invest an extra £1 billion in health over the next three years that will help to tackle lengthy waiting lists, hire more doctors and nurses and fund vital health services; and to also work with RCN to address the very real concerns of nurses.”