A £110 million funding package has been tabled by the new Health Minister in a bid to prevent further strikes.
The UUP’s Robin Swann made the announcement this afternoon, in a move he hailed as a “breakthrough”.
Mr Swann said £30 million of that funding will go towards offering health workers pay parity with the rest of the UK.
The extra funding will be pulled from existing finances at Stormont which, he added, would have implications for the budget in future years.
The Health Minister met with trade union officials immediately after the Executive discussions to outline the new offer.
The proposals include commitments on safe staffing, also endorsed by today’s Executive meeting.
Mr Swann spelt out the new measures in a written statement to the Assembly. He told MLAs he believes a settlement to the health dispute can now be achieved.
“I presented a paper to Executive colleagues this morning. I am grateful to my fellow Ministers for endorsing those proposals,” he said.
“Additional funding has now been secured. Pay parity with England can be restored.
“Our nurses and other great health and social care staff can come off the picket line, can get back to the jobs that they love and do so well.”
The Minister also told the Assembly: “I sincerely hope and believe trade unions will now bring industrial action to a swift end.
“This is a good day after some very difficult days. I am grateful to my colleagues around the Executive table for helping to make it happen.
“We have moved significantly, and quickly, to take action together. That is a sign of optimism for the future.
“I know there is scepticism in many quarters about what this Health Minister and this Executive can do for the health and social care service. That is entirely understandable.
“Many good people doubt whether we can set party politics aside and work together constructively. We shall see.
“But maybe, just maybe, today will give the sceptics some pause for thought.”
First Minister Rt Hon Arlene Foster reaffirmed the Executive’s pledge to address the ongoing issues in the Health Service.
She said: “We have taken decisive steps today, working collaboratively, to address the immediate issues of pay parity, patient safety and waiting lists. We are determined to ensure improved healthcare for everyone in Northern Ireland and are joined in one voice to call for the required multi-year resourcing to ensure a Health Service that delivers for everyone.”
The deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill added: “The entire Executive recognises that there are incredibly difficult issues within the health and social care system and the need for transformation.
“Our immediate action to restore pay parity shows our determination to work together to tackle those issues and provide our people with the healthcare they deserve.
“Nurses and other health workers are the heart of the health service and they are crucial in supporting the change that’s needed. We will now keep a focus on ensuring appropriate and adequate funding is forthcoming to allow us to deliver on commitments.”
Finance Minister Conor Murphy commented: “My Department worked overnight to secure the £30m from the Treasury that is required in the short term to restore pay parity.”
“With the agreement of the Executive I have awarded this money to my colleague Minister Swann.
“This award is only possible because the Executive has received an advance on the financial package from the British Government.
“Similarly, other commitments in the New Decade, New Approach document can only be delivered with additional funding. Negotiations on that financial package continue.”
The unions are now understood to be taking the offer to consult with their members to determine what course of action to take.
The Royal College of Nursing is planning to take further strike action later this month and up until March while the GMB union has also confirmed it plans to carry out further strike action in January.
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