Northern Ireland

Thousands of health workers join second wave of strike action

Healthcare staff  on the picket line at the Mater Hospital in north Belfast. Picture Mal McCann.
Healthcare staff on the picket line at the Mater Hospital in north Belfast. Picture Mal McCann. Healthcare staff on the picket line at the Mater Hospital in north Belfast. Picture Mal McCann.

PICKET lines returned to Northern Ireland hospitals today as thousands of health workers took part in a second wave of strike action.

The 24-hour walkout saw paramedics and other NHS staff from across Nipsa, Unison, Unite and the GMB continue their demands for safe staffing and better pay.

It follows previous health strikes last month which also included members of the Royal College of Nursing.

Unison nurses and health support workers started the walk out at midnight in the Belfast Royal Hospitals, Craigavon Area Hospital and Lagan Valley Hospital.

Healthcare staff  on the picket line at the Mater Hospital in north Belfast. Picture Mal McCann.
Healthcare staff on the picket line at the Mater Hospital in north Belfast. Picture Mal McCann. Healthcare staff on the picket line at the Mater Hospital in north Belfast. Picture Mal McCann.

By early morning, picket lines also formed at all hospitals, the Ambulance Service, social care HQs and Northern Ireland's 10 health agencies.

A Unison spokesperson said: “The mood tonight is one of determination and growing anger - not just over pay but at the chronic state of our hospitals and social care services. Thousands of health workers are now challenging the Northern Ireland political parties and the UK Government for hiding from the reality facing health workers and patients alike.”

They added that a lack of engagement with striking workers and unions was likely to cause “intensified action with clear consequences at forthcoming elections.”

Unite, which represents around 4,000 health and social care workers, backed the strike action with an 87 per cent majority.

Striking health workers at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Picture Mal McCann.
Striking health workers at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Picture Mal McCann. Striking health workers at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Picture Mal McCann.

General secretary Sharon Graham said the latest strikes were being taken “as an absolute last resort”.

“Our members are seeing the NHS eroded before their eyes and patients’ lives are being placed at risk due to chronic underfunding,” she said.

“In the absence of a functioning Stormont executive, the responsibility for this strike lies squarely with Rishi Sunak who has failed to show leadership and ensure that NHS bosses made a realistic offer to the workers who keep our health and social care services running."

Unite’s lead regional officer for health in Northern Ireland, Kevin McAdam, said: “Nobody should be in any doubt regarding our members’ determination to defend their living standards amidst an unprecedented cost of living crisis."

Further strike action from Unite members is due to take place on February 16, 17, 23 and 24.

Striking health workers at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Picture Mal McCann.
Striking health workers at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Picture Mal McCann. Striking health workers at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Picture Mal McCann.

Attending the picket line outside the Royal Victoria Hospital, People Before Profit MLA Gerry Garroll said the strike action was as much about safe staffing as it was about pay.

“Health workers have kept the NHS afloat despite decades of cuts. They have had enough," he said.

“The Tories are waging ideological war on the NHS. They don't care about staff and they certainly don't care about patients who are constantly put at risk by government policy.

"Striking health workers are fighting for real investment in services and staff. Our health service won’t survive if they don’t.”

Striking health workers at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Picture Mal McCann.
Striking health workers at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Picture Mal McCann. Striking health workers at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Picture Mal McCann.
Striking health workers at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Picture Mal McCann.
Striking health workers at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Picture Mal McCann. Striking health workers at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Picture Mal McCann.
Striking health workers at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Picture Mal McCann.
Striking health workers at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Picture Mal McCann. Striking health workers at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Picture Mal McCann.