Health Minister Robin Swann has said he is “deeply concerned” about the consequences of Paul Givan’s resignation as First Minister.
He said the move will damage efforts to address hospital waiting lists and raises questions for the removal of Covid-19 restrictions.
Mr Givan’s resignation puts the future of the Executive in doubt at a time when it is yet to pass the draft three-year budget that Mr Swann has described as “crucial” for the health service.
The Health Minister has repeatedly raised concerns that the recent series of 12-month budgets gave him limited scope to tackle issues such as hiring new staff, due to a lack of financial certainty.
In a series of tweets on Thursday, Mr Swann said: “Deeply concerned about the consequences of today’s decision.
“I will remain in post but the task of rebuilding our health service has been made all the more difficult.
“A 3 year budget was crucial for fixing our waiting lists & funding our mental health and cancer strategies.”
Mr Swann said the move also raises questions for the lifting of pandemic restrictions.
He said: “I have sought urgent legal clarification regarding the decisions on Covid restrictions I had really hoped it could have been made by the Executive next week.
“My priority is & will remain supporting our health & social care system, but patients & staff deserve better than this.
“My intention has been to see a significant removal of Covid restrictions, replaced by guidance, at the earliest opportunity.
“I believe that time is very close. I will have more to say on this in the coming days, guided by legal advice & the latest public health assessments.”
Mr Givan’s resignation, which comes into effect at midnight, will automatically remove Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill from her job because, under Stormont’s powersharing rules, one cannot hold office without the other.
Other Stormont ministers can remain in post but the Executive can no longer meet and is unable to make significant policy decisions.
The most significant item of unfinished business for the current Executive is the draft three-year budget.
Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy’s spending plan envisages a significant reconfiguration of Executive spending priorities to boost investment in the region’s under-pressure health service.
A failure to agree to a final Executive budget would derail those plans to prioritize health spending.
A small number of public health curbs remain in place, such as the wearing of face masks in certain settings and obligations on businesses to collect contact tracing information and conduct risk assessments.
The fate of these measures in the absence of an Executive is unclear.
While the measures were introduced as a consequence of Executive-wide decisions, DUP sources insist Mr Swann can use emergency powers granted during the pandemic to lift them unilaterally.
A source close to Mr Swann questioned that contention on Thursday and said the position requires legal scrutiny.