Department warns of unprecedented disruption to NI health services due to strike

Disruption to health services in Northern Ireland due to next week’s strike action will be on a scale “not experienced with previous industrial action”, health chiefs have warned.

The Department of Health said while efforts would be made to mitigate the impact of the industrial action, there would be “widespread disruption” – with some services not available at all.

Nurses and health workers are among those who are to take part in a generalised day of action on January 18 over an outstanding pay award for public sector workers.

The public are being advised to take all steps to reduce their requirement for health service treatment next Thursday.

In a statement, the Department of Health said it was “extremely concerned” about the potential impact of the industrial action.

A spokesperson said: “While every effort will be made to mitigate the impact on the public, there will be widespread disruption to all aspects of health and social care services.

“This is expected to impact across a wide range of areas including planned and unplanned (urgent/emergency) hospital services, community services such as day centres, district nursing and domiciliary care as well as ambulance cover.

“Trusts will work with trade union representatives to seek to protect emergency care.

“We nevertheless believe that disruption to services will be on a scale not experienced with previous industrial action.”

The department pointed out that the strike action would be taking place at a time when services are “already under sustained and very severe pressure”.

The spokesperson added: “Staffing shortfalls on the day are expected to be further exacerbated by industrial action in education and public transport.

“We would therefore ask the public to be very conscious of the fact that a significantly reduced health service will be in place on January 18.

“This would mean not just delays over and above existing levels but some services not being available at all.

“Please use services appropriately and help ensure care is available to those who need it most.

“Take all sensible steps to reduce your chances of requiring health service treatment on the day.

“At the same time, if you need emergency hospital care on the day, you must seek it immediately.

“The department is very aware of the deep frustration of health service staff at the ongoing absence of a pay offer for this year.

“We also understand that this frustration is further compounded by indications that funding for public sector pay increases is potentially available.”

Under the current health budget, it has not been possible for the department to make a pay offer to health service staff.

The department spokesperson said: “That situation is neither sustainable nor defensible and cannot hold indefinitely.”

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