The finance minister has said for the first time that healthcare should be ringfenced in the upcoming budget.
Sammy Wilson suggested that social services and public safety - also part of the same budget - should face reductions but healthcare should not.
He said: "We will give protection to that part of the health budget which is protected in the rest of the UK."
The health minister has already said such a commitment would not be enough and warned of job losses.
Mr Wilson's comments refer to the decision of the coalition government in Whitehall to ringfence the health budget in England.
His pledge would mean that day-to-day budgets for the health service, including hospitals and GP surgeries, would be protected.
The finance department hopes to agree a draft budget by next Tuesday with a final budget delivered in February.