Health Minister Robin Swan said his successor would “have a lot of work to do” to transform health care in Northern Ireland.
In a recent address to his Oversight Committee at the current session of the Assembly, Mr. Swan reiterated his frustration with the failure of Stormont’s three-year budget, which would have provided significant funding for health care.
Ministers are unable to sign a new budget due to the blackout, which means departments will have to forgo emergency measures to continue funding public services.
Mr. Swan told the health committee that two years of the epidemic had brought unprecedented challenges to health care.
“It was appropriate that yesterday we took the time to reflect on the challenges and losses of the past two years,” he said.
“While we are grateful that we were able to bypass restrictions, it is important that we continue to protect ourselves from the virus.”
Despite all the challenges of the pandemic, we have been able to make progress on a wide range of problems.
“We are in a much stronger position, both in terms of training and morale, than we were in January 2020. It is clear that there is still a lot of work to be done.
The minister continued: “As we continue with the reality of the pandemic and the pressures that were there before in the health service, I think we can all agree that we need a strong focus on recovery and improvement.
“I have no doubt that those who will be sitting in this chair in the coming months will want to see the current momentum continue.
“As we continually plan for the future, the pace, scope and direction of healthcare restoration and transformation will be influenced by the resources available.
“We had a real opportunity with the three-year budget draft, and while it is now clearly missed, it makes it all the more important for the next executive to agree on a sustainable multi-year budgeting situation.
Although progress has been made, there is still much work to be done for the next minister and the next committee.
Alan Chambers, Member of Parliament for UUP, said significant progress had been made within two years of the current assembly.
He added, “How has the handling of the Covid pandemic limited your administration’s work in delivering the changes you were trying to achieve and how damaging and frustrating is the lack of a multi-year budget?”
Mr. Svan replied: “A lot of terrible work has been done. Would you like to do more? Could we have done more without a pandemic?”
“I think that’s because I think our elective care strategy, our mental health strategy, our cancer strategy all reflect where we want to see healthcare in Northern Ireland.
“The biggest disappointment is the fact that one of the things that I am convinced of is that the funding proposal fits with each of these strategies so people can see not only the strategy, but also what they will get for their money.
“We’re now back to what would be a one-year budget, and that doesn’t allow the health department, the trusts, to look at the long-term, even after three years, so that they can pass on a lot of that strategy from the pilots when they arrive to start their deliveries.”