Northern Ireland news

Midwife warns some pregnant women cannot afford the fuel to drive to medical appointments

Health Trust staff will get an increased mileage rate, the health minister has announced

SOME pregnant women cannot afford to pay for the fuel needed to drive to their medical appointments, a community midwife has warned.

Health Minister Robin Swann yesterday announced an increase in the mileage rate for health trust staff who use their car for work.

The increase means the rate paid for mileage clocked up above 3,500 miles will rise from 20p per mile to 30p for an initial six month period.

Trade unions including Unison, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) in Northern Ireland and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) have said the increase will help some staff struggling with sharp rises in fuel costs.

The Department of Health said the payments, which will be made through staff payroll systems, will take "some time".

It said health trusts have been asked whether they can issue staff with fuel cards when they reach the 3,500-mile threshold.

One community midwife, who wished to remain anonymous, told the RCM the jump in petrol and diesel prices has hit health staff and patients.

"As a community midwife working in the Northern Trust, I cover a huge geographical area from as far as Dundrod to Toome to Ballynure and Straid and all in one day," she said.

"This is not only very time consuming, but also exceptionally costly. The women we care for are also being impacted by the increased cost in fuel with some unable to afford to make journeys for all their appointments. This has meant they are relying on us more to facilitate care in their homes which is having a knock-on effect."

Mr Swann said the decision was taken after "careful consideration of options prepared by officials in recent weeks," but that it was "at risk" because he did not have a finalised budget.

"Funding pressures in health may be significant by the second half of this financial year," he said.

The impasse at Stormont has meant ministers can run their departments but they cannot make any new decisions, including agreeing a budget.

RCM's Regional Officer for Northern Ireland, Mary Caddell, said the increased rate should be paid as soon as possible.

"Midwives and maternity support workers here are really feeling the squeeze from the increased cost of living crisis, and some are struggling financially," she said.

Rita Devlin, Director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, said some staff are "effectively paying to work".

"While this is a modest increase, it will be a relief to staff who have experienced considerable financial strain to provide care to patients," she said.

Unison said UK-wide allowances for health workers are under review and "interim adjustments" have had to be implemented in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"Rising fuel costs punched a hole in the UK-wide AFC (Agenda for Change) allowances and have left many workers in serious difficulties," a spokesman said.

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