Northern Ireland

Health Minister Robin Swann vows to prioritise pay talks with staff

Health Minister Robin Swann , as Northern Ireland's devolved government is restored, Two years to the day since it collapsed. PICTURE:  COLM LENAGHAN
Executive at Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann , as Northern Ireland's devolved government is restored, Two years to the day since it collapsed. PICTURE:  COLM LENAGHAN

Stormont’s Health Minister Robin Swann has said he intends to prioritise pay settlements for staff and to resolve industrial action.

Mr Swann returned as minister following a meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly on Saturday.

He held the same ministry between 2020-22 during which time his profile soared as he led the health service through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since then pressures within the health service have increased and staff have been involved in long-running industrial action over pay claims.

The UK Government has pledged £3.3 billion in funding for the new powersharing Executive, including £600 million to settle public sector pay claims.

Mr Swann said dealing with pay was his “immediate priority”.

He added: “I want to see pay negotiations being initiated without delay.

“Consequently I have written to the trade unions inviting them to early discussions.

“Staff are the bedrock of the health service and they are entitled to proper remuneration for the vital work they do.”

Mr Swann said he was “honoured and humbled” to return to the role.

He said: “We do not have a minute to waste given the scale of the issues facing services.

“The pressures across all parts of the system have built up over many years and cannot be quickly or simply fixed.

“However, I am convinced that a way forward is achievable through investment, improved productivity and efficiency, and changing how we organise some services.

“I am very conscious of the toll the current pressures and service shortfalls are taking on staff and patients.

“We must take the right decisions that will give citizens more timely access to care and treatment.

“I intend to see for myself all parts of the health and social care system once again over the coming weeks and this will help inform the policy priorities I will set.”

The Ulster Unionist MLA said he would be discussing with Executive colleagues how to support health and social care services.

“An ailing health service is not just bad for patients and staff – it also impacts heavily on society as a whole.

“Debilitating delays for treatment and care stop people playing their full part in their local community and in the workplace.

“Improving access to health and social care has to be an absolute priority for government here.”