Northern Ireland health strike ‘will have profound impact’ on services, Trust leaders warn

Health trust bosses in Northern Ireland have warned that mass strike action planned for the region on Thursday will have a “profound impact” on services.

The chief executives of the five hospital trusts and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service said the disruption will be on a “massive and unprecedented scale”, with a best-case scenario resulting in a service similar to that offered on Christmas Day.

Nurses, midwives and other healthcare workers will be among tens of thousands of public sector employees taking to the picket lines on Thursday in what unions are calling Northern Ireland’s biggest strike.

Workers are demanding that a pay award made to counterparts elsewhere in the UK is introduced in Northern Ireland.

Stormont’s Department of Health has already warned how services will be affected by the walkout, and a joint statement from Northern Ireland’s health trusts has sounded a similar note of alarm.

Speaking at a press conference at the Ulster Hospital on Monday, the South Eastern Trust’s chief executive Roisin Coulter (pictured) said it is concerned about the planned industrial action.

She said discussions with trade unions about potential exemptions are under way.

“It is going to see disruption of a massive and unprecedented scale,” she said.

“We are only going to be able to provide minimum and emergency services on Thursday, and that’ll be right across health and social care in Northern Ireland. The services will be Christmas Day at best.

“There is likely to be increased risk to patients and to the public on Thursday but we will do everything we can as always to protect our priority of maintaining safe services so patient safety is the priority.

“The impact will not only be on hospital services but community services as well, so the message to the public is that if you have not been contacted then assume that your procedure, your outpatient appointment or your day care attendance is cancelled on Thursday.”

Asked about the scale of the impact on services, medical director Dr Charlie Martyn (pictured) said on Thursday it will “not be doing anything other than life or limb and we will provide full emergency cover at the front door of our hospitals but it will be difficult”.

He said the disruption will be on a scale never seen before.

“There will be some limited number of cancer operations going forward but not outpatients and various other services,” he said.

“I’ve not seen it (the level of disruption) before and I’ve been in practice a long time.”

In the joint statement, the chief executives also backed their workers’ call for a pay increase.

“We are deeply concerned that the planned industrial action on Thursday 18 January will have a profound impact on our services, which are already under enormous strain,” they said.

“The disruption will be on a massive and unprecedented scale.

“Minimal and emergency services only will be available throughout Northern Ireland, similar to Christmas Day, at best.

“It is a tragedy that our colleagues, who are the backbone of our health and social care service, feel they have no alternative but to take this action.

“We would repeat our call for all staff to be properly rewarded for their work.

“They understandably feel aggrieved that their counterparts in the rest of the UK have received a pay award, while they continue to work incredibly hard without receiving the same recognition, particularly during a period of high cost-of-living increases.

“To add to their immense frustration, they have been told publicly that funding for a pay award is potentially available, but not yet released.

“As chief executives, we have repeatedly and publicly called for a long-term funding settlement for health and social care in Northern Ireland that addresses central issues including waiting lists, recruitment and pay in a sustainable manner.

“We have been struggling with a system where funding has been allocated on a yearly basis, which makes it impossible to plan for the long term.

“There is so much to put right in health and social care. Much-needed progress has been critically hampered by multiple years of political and budgetary instability.

“As the extreme pressures on the health and social care service continue unabated, the position is increasingly unsustainable.

“We would like to sincerely thank all our staff for their continued dedication in really difficult circumstances.”

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