The Stormont Finance Minister has said he will argue for the Department of Health to be given priority in a multi-year budget.
Northern Ireland currently has the worst hospital waiting list figures in the UK, with more than 335,000 people waiting for a first consultant-led appointment.
The Assembly has been functioning on single-year budgets in recent years, leading to complaints that planning for projects and initiatives were hampered by the short-term approach.
Conor Murphy told MLAs on Tuesday that Chancellor Rishi Sunak has indicated to him he plans to announce a multi-year spending review later this year.
He said on that basis the Executive will shortly begin preparations for a multi-year draft budget.
“Budgets are agreed by all ministers, not just the finance minister, however I will be arguing for priority to continue to be given to health, both to assist with the immediate waiting crisis and to fund longer-term transformation,” Mr Murphy told MLAs.
DUP MLA Pam Cameron pressed the minister to address the “horrendous” waiting lists and transformation “that is so badly needed”, which she warned “may mean tightening the purse strings for less important political projects”.
Mr Murphy said the Executive has agreed to “try and take the politics out of health”, and adopt a collective approach across the five parties represented among the ministerial line up.
He said health has received almost half of the available revenue budget, supplemented by Covid-19 funds.
“I have given the health minister an additional £250m of Covid money this year for rebuilding the health service coming out of the pandemic, of which I think £40m of that has been allocated by the health department to waiting lists.
“So I’m hopeful that will help, but we know in the longer-term transformation process, what health needs is recurrent funding which is guaranteed into the future over a multi-year budget scenario, and that’s the place that we all want to get,” he said.
Mr Murphy said the Department of Health needs the “ability to plan over a number of years” and certainty with recurrent funding to employ the people they need, to transform.
“We only hope that the arguments that we’re making with the Prime Minister during a recent meeting that the deputy First Minister attended, and with the Chancellor, about the British Government resource and the rebuilding of the health service coming out of the pandemic, is one which bears fruit for us,” he said.
Mr Murphy said the funding allocation for the multi-year budget will not be known until the autumn, adding a warning that this year’s allocation was not made known until November 25 last year.
Meanwhile Mr Murphy said the Executive remains in “discussion and dispute” with the Treasury over which will fund payments for a scheme for those seriously injured in Northern Ireland’s troubled past.
The Stormont Executive has argued that as Westminster created the legislation, it should pay for the scheme, however London has insisted Stormont is funded to pay for it.
“We have created the headroom for sufficient funds for this year to cover that cost from the Executive, but the Executive is in agreement that it is not our responsibility to cover that cost,” he said.