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Robin Swann confirms pay parity to be restored for nurses

Minister for Health Robin Swann (centre) of the UUP leaving Stormont Castle with DoH Director of Communications David Gordon (left) and UUP staff member Mark Ovens (right), leave Stormont Castle after a meeting to discuss the Government's financial offer to support the power sharing deal 

Stormont health minister Robin Swann is to restore pay parity between nurses in Northern Ireland and England for this year and next.

It is estimated to cost £109 million.

Part of the cost for the current year is to be financed by drawing forward proposed allocations for future years.

Mr Swann said: "Additional funding has now been secured. Pay parity with England can be restored.

"Our nurses and other great health and social care workers can come off the picket line, can get back to the job that they love and do so well."

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Mr Swann said: "The breakthrough we all wanted has been achieved.

"This is a good day after some very difficult days."

First Minister Arlene Foster said she was glad to support the health minister.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said: "Today the new executive has delivered on our promise, delivered on our commitment to the healthcare staff.

"I think this is a hugely significant first step for this Executive.

"It sends out a very strong message in terms of our commitment to work together, to work for the health service, to transform the health service and to value the biggest asset which the health service has - which is the staff."

Finance Minister Conor Murphy said the extra £30 million was part of the financial settlement with the British government.

He said: "That issue is not complete, it is not over, and we intend to pursue that over the course of the next number of days and into the next week."

Mr Murphy said: "If we get the necessary finances to run decent public services then we will not be into the previous pattern of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

"If we are going to have a sustainable executive we need it politically sustainable but we also need it financially sustainable and that is the argument that we are bringing to the British government and to the treasury."

A joint health trade unions statement said they had a "meaningful" briefing with the health minister before his address to the assembly.

"We expect correspondence from the minister on the two substantial issues in the current dispute, pay parity and safe staffing.

"Tomorrow we will spend time at the Department for Health considering the details on what is required for the restoration of pay parity.

"We will take the minister's correspondence to our respective executives this week and thereafter regional trade unions will make a public statement."

Prior to Mr Swann's announcement this morning, director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Pat Cullen had warned that safe staffing levels are "of equal importance" to pay.

"The restoration of pay parity has been addressed in the New Decade, New Approach deal but of equal importance are the issues we have outlined in relation to safe staffing, and ensuring that we have the nursing workforce in place to be able to deliver the reform that our health services so badly need," she said.

Part of the cost for the current year is to be financed by drawing forward proposed allocations for future years.

Stormont executive ministers are expecting billions of pounds from the treasury to finance the ambitious plans outlined in the New Decade, New Approach agreement, an accord tabled jointly by the British and Dublin governments.

Much of it will be used to address the multiple problems that have beset public services during the three-year powersharing impasse.

Top of the list is the high-profile pay dispute involving health care workers, and action to reduce spiralling hospital waiting lists.

Mr Swann said: "Decisive action has also been taken on the vital issue of staffing and my department is providing a written commitment to immediate high-level engagement with unions to produce a costed implementation plan on safe staffing within an agreed short period."

He said he was grateful to colleagues around the executive table for helping to make it happen.

Ministers met this morning.

Mr Swann said: "We have moved significantly and quickly to take action together.

"That is a sign of optimism for the future."

The Health Department has found an additional £79 million for this year but an extra £30 million is required, financed through drawing forward proposed funding allocations for future years.

Mr Swann said: "So while I am glad that it is not impacting on the funds available for other services this year, it is important to note that it has not been financed by an additional allocation to Northern Ireland."

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