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NHS Waiting Times

Volume 722: debated on Wednesday 9 November 2022

4. What recent assessment he has made with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) representatives of political parties in Northern Ireland of the adequacy of resources for tackling NHS waiting times in Northern Ireland. (902056)

10. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) representatives of political parties in Northern Ireland on tackling NHS waiting times in Northern Ireland. (902062)

We are acutely aware of the pressures facing the health service in Northern Ireland. A fully functioning devolved Government is the only way to deliver the necessary reforms to transform healthcare. We have made that point repeatedly to party leaders.

Around one in four people in Northern Ireland are on an NHS waiting list and the role of staff is vital. I understand that the outgoing Health Minister in Northern Ireland wrote to the Secretary of State asking him to implement the summer pay award, as Stormont cannot. Will he take that forward?

The hon. Lady will know that we are deeply concerned about the state of the Northern Ireland Executive’s finances and that officials are working urgently with the Northern Ireland civil service to take things forward. Of course we will keep matters under review, but as health is a devolved matter, I have to say that the best way forward would be the restoration of the Executive.

Two years ago, the Health Minister Robin Swann, who did such a good job, averted industrial action by ensuring comparability between pay for nurses in Northern Ireland and in England and Wales. The Northern Ireland Fiscal Council says that the budget for health will be 2% lower next year than this year. Will the Minister guarantee that there will be money to pay the nurses, without whom there will be no impact on the dreadful waiting lists?

The recommendations of the independent review bodies, which have responsibility for determining pay for health workers, were published in July 2022. The Minister of Health was unable to implement the recommended pay increases because there had not been a wider Executive decision on public sector pay. Pay parity with NHS England was restored after a Northern Ireland-wide strike in 2019-20, but in the Executive’s absence, pay divergence has occurred again.

I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that the UK Government are providing £121 per person for the Executive for every £100 of equivalent UK Government spending over the 2021 spending review period to deliver public services in Northern Ireland. I think his constituents and mine would consider that quite generous funding.