Northern Ireland’s health service is a “world leader” doing exceptional things every day, Simon Hamilton has told the DUP annual conference.
The minister for health, who has faced harsh criticism over the recent policy of boycotting Assembly business despite increased hospital waiting lists, pledged that health spending will increase by at least £1 billion during the next Assembly term.
Mr Hamilton said: “Our health service is doing some amazing things. The NHS in Northern Ireland is a trailblazer in tackling a number of the major challenges facing health and social care across the globe.
“It is absolutely inspiring to be minister in a department where so many of our health and social care staff are doing exceptional things every single day. We are blessed in Northern Ireland to have some of the highest standards of services anywhere in the world.”
Last month, the minister was lambasted for refusing to break the DUP’s ministerial boycott to respond to questions about a crisis in cancer waiting times.
However, he told his party’s delegates last night that the work of Northern Ireland based cancer specialists has resulted in the province “having the best breast cancer survival rates in the UK”.
Mr Hamilton said other services were excelling also.
“We have cutting edge cardiac care which is so pioneering that it’s being showcased to international audiences.
“And we have a kidney transplant unit who have recently equalled the UK record for the most transplants in one day.
“So when I say that Northern Ireland can have world class health and social care, my faith in that ambitious vision is because we have already put the important foundations in place”.
The minister said his belief in “what we do so well” does not blind him to the amount of work that still needs to be carried out.
He added: “I know that reform is required. That change is needed. That we can do so much better.
“That’s why, a few weeks ago, I outlined plans for the biggest shake up in health and social care in Northern Ireland in a generation.
“I will eliminate an entire layer of bureaucracy within our system by abolishing the Health and Social Care Board so that decision making is made easier, accountability is clearer and innovation is encouraged. I will also appoint a panel of independent experts to advise us on how we should best shape our health service in the years ahead so that we can deliver the highest standard and safety of care.”