Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill has said she will not give up on efforts to restore the Stormont executive amid a health service crisis in Northern Ireland.
Ms O’Neill also called for a speedy resolution to issues with the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol in negotiations between the UK and the EU.
Health service pressures have been evident in the region in recent days with a number of hospitals urging the public only to attend in emergency situations.
Ms O’Neill and party colleagues Conor Murphy and Colm Gildernew met with nurses in Belfast on Wednesday to discuss the situation.
Speaking afterwards, she said: “Clearly there is a very challenging situation facing our whole health service, but in particular our nursing staff.
“It is very clear speaking directly to nursing staff this morning the fact that they feel undervalued, the fact that they feel exhausted and demoralised.
“They are crying out for support and for help, just to do their jobs.
“What we need now is an executive. We need an executive which prioritises health. We need an executive to work very quickly to fix what is wrong.
“I am not giving up. I think the one thing nurses also asked for is some hope.
“Some hope that there will be an executive, some hope that we can work with other parties, some hope that we can prioritise a budget for health.”
On Saturday night the Antrim Area Hospital temporarily closed its doors to new admissions after it declared a major incident due to pressures caused by the number of patients attending the emergency department.
Since then, a number of other hospitals have described operating under extreme pressure, with a large number of patients waiting in EDs and ambulances queuing outside.
Ms O’Neill said if issues relating to the protocol could be resolved, then it could lead to the return of the Stormont executive.
The DUP is currently boycotting the devolved institutions in protest at the protocol and the party insists it will not countenance a return to Stormont until its economic barriers on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland are removed.
There has been a heightened focus on the talks between the EU and UK following the collapse of the devolved government in Northern Ireland.
Ms O’Neill said: “What we now need to see are the protocol discussions to continue in earnest.
“What we need is a speedy resolution, an agreed resolution that allows the executive to go back up.
“That’s what I’m working for, that’s what the nursing staff are telling us they want us to work for and I think the public deserve no less.
“I want to be in the executive. I want to appoint a ministerial team.
“I am worried that we don’t have an executive in this climate where our health service is collapsing around us.”
A budget for 2022/23 had not been agreed by the Stormont parties prior to the ministerial executive imploding in February.
Before that, ministers had agreed in principle that any new spending plan would need to allocate increased funding to the region’s crisis-hit health service.