Nurses threaten to strike over fears for safety of young patients
Nurses at a Northern Ireland hospital are threatening to strike amid fears for the safety of children being treated there, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The Northern Health & Social Care Trust is currently pressing ahead with plans to divert paediatric nurses from the Antrim Area Hospital children's ward to work in the A&E paediatric unit.
However, nurses are so concerned the proposal will compromise the safety of young patients that they are considering staging a walk-out in protest.
Public service union Unison is today due to begin balloting its members on industrial action as the row with the trust rumbles on.
Regional organiser for Unison Brian Ferguson said: "It is unprecedented to have nurses come to us asking for a ballot over concerns for patient safety.
"This shows the depth of feeling among nurses over this issue.
"We are clear there are not enough paediatric nurses to staff both A2 and the ED, this is simply cost-cutting by the trust, and taking nurses out of A2 will cause problems there.
"The trust is also proposing putting just one paediatric nurse in the ED, but we're also saying this is not safe. We support the idea of putting paediatric nurses into the children's unit at the ED but we believe you need at least two in there at all times, certainly that is what guidelines on safe nursing levels would say."
The accusations of cost-cutting come as the trust has created and filled a new executive post.
Pamela McCreedy took up the position of deputy chief executive and director of operations at the beginning of the month.
The Belfast Telegraph asked the trust for a copy of any clinical risk assessment on the plans but the trust failed to supply these.
A spokeswoman from the trust said the director of nursing, Olive MacLeod, "is satisfied that any risks have been considered and mitigation put in place to address concerns". She said children's nursing staff and their representatives had been working since January 2015 to improve children's services in the hospital's ED.
"The proposals will enhance the current high quality service by using all our skilled and trained children's nurses to provide acute and emergency services," she said.
"The lead nurse for paediatrics and her team have assessed the skills of all children's nurses to support them to deliver a children's pathway for the Northern Trust. This includes a robust induction programme for all nurses rotating onto the ED."
However, deputy chair of the Stormont health committee Alex Easton said he is concerned that nursing staff feel the need to want to ballot for strike.
"This is deeply worrying as nurses are an invaluable asset and if they are expressing concerns and are unhappy about the safety of patients, then we should be listening to them," he said.
"I would urge the Northern Trust to sit up and take notice of the concerns of the nurses.
"If the Northern Trust can spend and waste money creating new management positions, that would probably employ two or three nurses, they should be able to resolve this issue very quickly."