Northern Ireland

Health workers to escalate strike action next month

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.

HEALTH workers are preparing to escalate their protest over pay and staffing levels with two 48 hour strikes next month.

Unite, which represents around 4,000 health workers, has planned the next walk outs on February 16-17 and 23-24.

Speaking during a strike on Thursday, Unite’s General Secretary Sharon Graham vowed that industrial action would continue as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was “missing in action” over the NHS crisis.

“I have not seen this man talk about the NHS for weeks, he needs to come to the table, do the proper deal for these workers so (they) can go back to work,” she told ITV.

Ms Graham also criticised the Health Secretary Steve Barclay, saying he had not engaged with Unite over a pay deal for this financial year.

“It’s very clear the health secretary has no mandate, he has no authority,” she said.

“What needs to happen now is Rishi Sunak needs to come out of hiding, come to the negotiating table with the general secretaries of the unions and deal with this issue of pay.”

During Thursday’s industrial action, derogations to protect the most seriously ill patients included paramedics at ready to leave picket lines for serious calls. Health Trusts listed information on the impact of the disruption and said they were now working to reschedule hundreds of cancelled appointments.

Apologising for any disruption, Belfast Health Trust said cancellations included 563 outpatient appointments, 93 inpatient/day case procedures and 41 community services appointments.

The Southern Trust said cancellations included 22 outpatient appointments in acute services and 23 cancelled surgeries.

A number of elective caesarean appointments were rescheduled while laboratory staff only dealt with urgent samples.

In children’s services, 12 respite visits were among the cancellations while in adult community services 241 outpatient appointments were cancelled.

In the Western Trust, Homecare service users were told “a significant number” may not receive their calls, with families asked to check on relatives and neighbours.

Closures were also listed in day centres for older people and those with learning disabilities.

A “significant number” of outpatient appointments and planned procedures were also postponed across the trusts’ three hospital sites.

In the South Eastern Trust, a total of 115 outpatient appointments were postponed and the Downe Day Procedure unit was closed.

The Northern Trust confirmed the disruption included 10 postponed outpatient appointments in acute care.

In community care, 191 domiciliary care service users were impacted while the closure of nine day centres affected 224 service users.

For mental health and learning disability, 668 service users were affected by closed adult cetnres while in children’s services 50 health visitor appointments were postponed.

The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service had warned on Thursday that “less clinically urgent” patients would face lengthy delays.

A spokesperson said: “NIAS respects the right of our staff who are union members to participate in industrial action. This action is being taken in relation to the national issues of pay and conditions and is a matter for the government and trade unions.”