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Save our health service with a four-year pay freeze, says MLA

By Lisa Smyth

Thousands of jobs could be saved and the NHS protected if healthcare workers across Northern Ireland agree to a pay freeze for the next four years, it has been claimed.

According to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), it needs to find almost £200 million over the next four years to cover incremental increases to wages — with al-|most £80m required during 2014/15.

The DHSSPS listed the spend as “inescapable” in a briefing paper officials presented to the Stormont health committee earlier this week.

However Jim Wells, chairman of the Stormont health committee, said NHS employees who earn over £21,000 a year could help save the health service by agreeing to a four-year freeze on their salaries.

The DUP MLA acknowledged such a move would be met with anger, but said he believed it will help to protect jobs in the health service.

Mr Wells said employees could agree to the freeze in return for a commitment from DHSSPS officials there will be no compulsory redundancies as they struggle to balance the books in the coming years.

He said: “If we are saying there will be people out there who won’t get their P45 because of this, then I think people will agree it has to be done.”

He called on Health Minister Michael McGimpsey to consider a range of efficiency measures, |such as funding incremental progression for the majority of the 66,000 NHS employees in Northern Ireland.

His comments come as |the BMA, a leading doctors’ |union, formally rejected proposals from NHS employers to introduce a two-year pay freeze for all NHS staff.

The Health Minister has warned the NHS in Northern Ireland faces financial ruin if the draft Budget is approved by his Stormont colleagues.

Speaking at the Stormont health committee on Thursday, he warned he must find £200m within six weeks or the health service will collapse. He also stressed 4,000 jobs could be axed.

And he rejected calls by members of the committee to introduce a pay freeze, arguing that he must adhere to contractual obligations arising out of UK-wide pay deals with healthcare workers.

Andrew McCormick, Permanent Secretary at the DHSSPS, added: “We can’t guarantee there will be no compulsory redundancies at this time.”

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