More than 10,000 appointments cancelled amid health workers’ strike
2 December 2019, 17:44
Health and social care workers are taking part in industrial action over pay and staffing levels
More than 10,000 outpatient appointments and surgeries in Belfast have been cancelled amid ongoing industrial action by health workers.
Trade union Unison took part in planned waves of four-hour strikes on Monday.
Further action is planned this week, while the Royal College of Nurses will stage 24 hours of industrial action, short of strike, on Tuesday.
The Health and Social Care Board has apologised to all those affected.
Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith has expressed his concerns at the impasse.
He tweeted on Monday evening that he is in touch with the Department of Health, but stressed devolved government at Stormont was needed to resolve the situation.
Earlier Belfast Trust chief executive Martin Dillon told the BBC that outpatient cancellations meant people due to have cancer diagnostic tests this week had seen their appointments stood down.
Patricia McKeown, regional secretary Unison NI, responded by saying: “The Trust did not indicate any intention to cancel cancer diagnostic treatment. If it had done so, it would have been exempted.
“We ask the Belfast Trust to urgently engage with Unison’s local representatives to explain why they have taken this action and to put it right.”
Hospitals expected to be affected on Tuesday include the Royal Victoria Hospital, Children’s Hospital, Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital, School of Dentistry, Belfast City Hospital, Mater Hospital and Musgrave Park Hospital.
The industrial action comes after talks last month between trade unions and employers ended without agreement.
Ms McKeown said the action is against “unjust pay and unsafe staffing levels”.
The Department of Health said a formal pay offer was made, which represents a 2.1% increase to the pay bill.
The department’s Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said it was the best that could be afforded given what he described as budgetary constraints and amid the limited authority in the absence of a health minister at Stormont.
SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan has expressed concern at the situation.
“I will be seeking an urgent meeting with the chief executive of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and senior officials at the Department for Health,” he said.
“Patients deserve better and so do our staff. It is unacceptable that they are expected to work for less than their counterparts in Britain. We need an urgent resolution of this situation and it certainly cannot come at the expense of our staff wellbeing.”
Alliance MLA and South Belfast election candidate Paula Bradshaw has urged talks.
“We saw all-party agreement led to successful progression on the implementation of the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry. There is no excuse for not managing the same process immediately as all-party talks on restoration of the Executive begin,” she said.
“There can be no excuse for further delay and agreement must be found swiftly regardless of whether or not a local Minister is in place in the New Year. Patients and workers need and deserve responsibility and resolution, not endless delay.”