INVESTMENT in the people who run our health service is as important as investment in new buildings and equipment.

Extra resources will be ineffective in reducing waiting lists if staff are insufficient in numbers and low in morale.

Pay has to be a crucial component in implementing the ambitious reforms and improvements mapped out for the NHS by the Government.

It is crucial in retaining skilled professionals in the service. And it is crucial in attracting skilled professionals to the service now and in years to come.

The Government has recognised the importance of pay and conditions, by agreeing to rises comfortably above the rate of inflation.

While there has been a warm welcome to the new pay scales from most quarters, there have also been some predictable criticisms.

However, the criticisms are unfair. We agree that the rises are not enough to prevent some staff leaving the NHS.

But to satisfy the demands of the most disgruntled staff would have entailed double digit rises. Such increases would have been impossible without sacrificing vital investment in other parts of the NHS.

Just as there is no instant cure to reducing waiting lists and improving the quality of care in the NHS, there is no instant cure to the malaise felt by NHS employees.

Problems created with our health service by years of neglect and under-investment cannot be solved overnight.

However, we have had a clear signal from this Government that it has a long-term strategy for investment. And yesterday it signalled it had a long-term strategy to offer long-term rewards to doctors, nurses and other staff.

We accept that, even with these pay rises, the NHS will be unable to compete for staff on equal terms with the private sector.

Those individuals in the NHS motivated by financial rewards alone will not be encouraged by yesterday's announcements.

But those motivated more by a faith in the principles of the NHS may be encouraged that their commitment may pay off in the long run.

The onus is on the Government to honour that faith by keeping to its promises.