Northern Ireland news

Nichola Mallon calls for `political leadership' on waiting lists as she offers to give up infrastructure funding

Nicola Mallon. Picture by Mal McCann.

INFRASTRUCTURE Minister Nichola Mallon said she is "willing" to give up funding in her department to help tackle Northern Ireland's waiting list "crisis".

The SDLP assembly member said changes can be made before the next election if all Executive parties commit to making it their "number one priority" and make "difficult financial choices".

"We don't need another plan for tackling waiting lists, we need action," she said.

"The plan is there, we need to be up front about what action we're going to take, how we're going to be funding it."

She called on Finance Minister Conor Murphy - whom she said recently turned down a £30 million funding bid from the Department of Health - to "bring forward a funding strategy and funding options to all of us as ministers and political parties can sign up to".

"That will mean difficult choices, it will mean a difficult choice. If I'm committing to health and tackling waiting lists as being a priority that will inevitably mean difficult financial choices for me as the infrastructure minister but I won't shy away from that," she told the BBC.

"People (are) dying on a waiting list, if that means that I have to make difficult choices in my department to ensure that people get seen ... I'm willing to take that action."

The minister said the British government must be asked for a financial package," but we as ministers around that executive table will need to say that tackling waiting lists is a number one priority and we will have that priority in terms of any year end funding that becomes available.

"I'm not happy about it, but I'm willing to do it."

The department is responsible for roads and road improvement schemes, public transport, waterways and water and sewerage services, planning, rivers and flooding.

Ms Mallon said it is time for "leadership".

"Politicians talk about tackling waiting lists, but when it comes to tough decisions they tend to run away.

"I'm saying as the Infrastructure Minister, I fully support the health minister - the plans are sitting there. People are dying on waiting lists, they don't need to be waiting 'til the next mandate. They need to see action now.

"And if we're all serious about committing to tackling waiting lists then we all need to take tough decisions. That's what political leadership is about."

She said the Sinn Féin northern leader Michelle O'Neill DUP leader Edwin Poots "are both former health ministers" whose parties "have held the joint first ministries for 14 years" and stressed workable plans have existed for a decade.

"Edwin Poots knew the problems facing the health service in 2011 because it was he that commissioned the Transforming Your Care, Michell O'Neill knew in 2016 when she commissioned Bengoa."

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