Northern Ireland health strike continues after pay offer rejected

Nurses from Ulster Hospital strike over pay and staffing levels.
Liam McBurney/PA Wire/PA Images

A fresh pay offer for health workers in Northern Ireland, who have been on strike for almost two weeks, has been rejected by unions.

Healthcare staff walked out over pay and “unsafe” staffing levels on 25 November.

Those taking industrial action include nurses, ambulance service staff, support staff, admin, clerical and managerial staff, social services and social care staff, and professional and technical staff.

Unison said waiting lists and waiting times for patients across Northern Ireland had hit “crisis level”, as the rate of pay was failing to attract enough frontline staff and causing many to leave the health service. It claimed NHS workers in Northern Ireland were the lowest paid NHS staff in the UK.

Yesterday (5 December) the Department of Health proposed a 3.1% increase for staff on Agenda for Change contracts (most NHS staff excluding doctors, dentists and most senior managers) which mirrors the NHS England pay settlement for this year. This was up one percentage point on the previous offer of 2.1%.

The offer was rejected by unions, with Unison’s Anne Speed describing it as “insufficient”.

Royal College of Nursing Northern Ireland director Pat Cullen said: “The last thing any nurse wants is to have to take industrial action. However, as we have stated on many occasions in recent weeks and months, nurses now feel that we have no choice.

“With around 2,800 vacant nursing posts in the system, record levels of expenditure on agency staff to try to plug the gaps, and nurses’ pay continuing to fall further and further behind the rest of the UK, nurses have had enough. The RCN has been raising these issues for many years, but nobody in the corridors of power has listened.”

Unison regional secretary Patricia McKeown said in November: “None of the workers involved have taken the decision lightly. They are determined to fight for justice on both pay and staffing levels.

“They are determined to break the cycle of hundreds of millions of pounds haemorrhaging out of the health budget and into the hands of private agencies. They are determined to see our NHS workforce stabilised and allowed to get on with the serious business of delivering health and social care to the people of Northern Ireland.”

The Health and Social Care Board, which operates health services in Northern Ireland, said patient care and safety was of “paramount concern”.

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