Northern Ireland news

Unions: strikes will not affect ICU nor chemotherapy services

Thousands of nurses from the Royal College of Nursing trade union are planning to strike next Wednesday for the first time. Picture Mal McCann.
Seanín Graham

CHEMOTHERAPY services and intensive care units will not be affected by next week's unprecedented strike action by nurses, at trade union chief confirmed last night.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) revealed however that hospital A&E units will have labour withdrawn by their members during the December 18 strike - but stressed units will be staffed to provide a "life-preserving service".

RCN director Pat Cullen told The Irish News they formally notified health trust employers and the Department of Health yesterday about its list of services which will be exempted from action, with hospital and community care impacted.

More than 14,000 of the union's nurses have also been informed.

The 12-hour strike is the first in the RCN's 103-year history and is linked to "unsafe" staffing levels and a pay dispute.

Phased industrial action during which nurses 'worked to rule' has been taking place over the past fortnight, with a second day of a 48-hour action taking place today.

Read More: Paramedics to join all-out strike on December 18

Ms Cullen said: "Nurses have not entered into this action lightly and we have issued our list of 'derogations' - which is what services will be exempt from strike action - to the Health and Social Care employers, Department of Health and RCN members.

Pat Cullen, Royal College of Nursing director, insists that the Department can intervene to find a resolution to the staff and pay dispute. Picture By Hugh Russell.

"This includes chemotherapy inpatient and outpatient services, units providing palliative care, psychiatric intensive care units and intensive care units.

"Strike action will impact upon nurses working in both hospitals and in the community."

Read More: Talks between trade unions and Stormont health department end without deal

When asked if A&E units were exempted from strike, Ms Cullen confirmed they were not.

She added: "They will be staffed to provide life preserving service".

Further "exemptions" are expected to be announced and it is understand this will include children's and maternity services as well as services caring for patients wiith severe learning disabiilities.

Thousands of healthcare workers from other unions, including Unison and Unite, will also take to the picket lines next Wednesday after a pay offer made by Department civil servants was rejected last week.

Ambulance chiefs confirmed on Monday that paramedics and control room staff will be involved in walkouts.

Unlike the nurses, front-line ambulance crews will strike over a 24-hour period. Life-threatening calls will be dealt with.

Private talks took place earlier this week between Secretary of State Julian Smith and union negotiators to find a resolution. Meetings also took place with department officials.

Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health and the most senior decision maker in the absence of a minister, has insisted that "budgetary constraints" and "lack of authority" mean he is unable to bring the north's healthcare workers' and nurses' wages into line with their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales.

But the RCN leader said she believes that Mr Pengelly does have the legal authority to act due to a public interest clause in the The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 which allows civil servants to intervene in "exceptional circumstances".

"In relation to the Department of Health, our position remains the same in that we believe the Department can take action to address this crisis in the public interest," she said.

"We owe it to patients across Northern Ireland to take action to resolve these urgent issues, of which safe staffing is one."


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