Causeway Chronicle

Swann sets out priorities to Health Committee 

Health Minister Robin Swann has told MLAs that health and social care services can be turned around “with the right combination of ambition, funding and joined up political leadership.”

The Minister also reiterated his warnings about the year ahead being largely about “damage limitation” due to severe budgetary constraints.

Mr Swann met with the Northern Ireland Assembly Health Committee today, setting out his priorities and his assessment of pressures on services.

He stated: “In common with other Executive Ministers, I am looking down the barrel of an inadequate budget for 2024/25 – while also facing growing need and demand.

“That is why I warned publicly in recent weeks that the next year will be largely about damage limitation. That is the reality, and it would be wrong to pretend otherwise. As I stated, the risks of service breakdown are real and growing in a range of areas. By that, I don’t mean we will wake up one morning and the health service will have simply toppled over. It will be more gradual, more insidious than yet – a slow motion slide that in reality has already been at play.”

The Minister said productivity and efficiency savings will be a “relentless focus” but will not be enough by themselves to bridge the funding gap.

There will be “unavoidable real-life consequences for patients, staff and services if health is left with an entirely inadequate budget”, he said.

Looking to the future, he set out key priority areas for turning around “the great ship that is health and social care”.

“This is doable, with the right combination of ambition, funding and joined up political leadership. Let me repeat, it is doable,” the Minister said.

Mr Swann said primary care and social care must be prioritised and existing strategic plans driven forward for elective care, cancer, mental health, and urgent and emergency care. Delivering a reconfigured hospital system is also required, along with advancement of technology and workforce agendas. Pace and scale of progress will be heavily dependent on funding.

The Minister also cited concrete progress that has been made in recent years, including a 15.7% increase in HSC staff between March 2018 and December 2023.

Whilst acknowledging the overall elective position remains unacceptable, the Minister also highlighted some areas of real positivity such as the continued rollout of his Elective Care Framework directly making a positive impact on lists such as inpatient and day case which have seen reductions by almost 13% – or a fall in over 14,000 patients – since December 2022.

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Maurice Bradley