Healthcare news

Department of Health clashes with nursing union over pay award

Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nurses in Northern Ireland
Seanín Graham

THE Department of Health has responded to criticism of its handling of a delayed pay award for healthcare workers after a trade union chief branded it "shameful".

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) claimed its members were owed an apology for the "unnecessary uncertainty" created by the stalling of a recommended one per cent pay rise to 55,000 staff in the north.

The backdated rise amounting to £26 million was announced on Wednesday and will be paid before the end of the financial year next April.

RCN chief Janice Smyth said her union had lobbied the department on the issue since March - when the pay award was first made - but were repeatedly told it had to be signed off by a minister.

"We are now told by the Department of Health that the refusal to implement the award is attributable to 'the absence of a Northern Ireland public sector pay policy for 2017-2018' and not, in fact, because of the absence of a health minister.

"...This is effectively a full year too late. This is a shameful way to treat underpaid and over-stretched nurses."

However, the department insisted that extra funding had only been discovered in the past fortnight.

"It is self-evident that the health budget has been under serious pressure this year. Prior to the November 28 announcement (of extra funding), the required £26m for a one per cent increase was simply not available, not least because of the situation facing frontline services," a spokesman said.

"Clearly, stopping services to the value of £26m to fund an award would have required – and indeed would still require if it were necessary – ministerial approval."

He added: "We are pleased at this resolution to a situation that no-one would describe as ideal."

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