Belfast Telegraph

A&E nurse at largest protest outside Belfast says conditions are 'degrading'

The picket line outside Antrim Area Hospital
The picket line outside Antrim Area Hospital
Linda Convery
Nicky Shaw
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Staff at Antrim Area Hospital called working conditions "degrading" and "embarrassing" as they joined yesterday's strike action.

There were cheers as union reps marched along the lines with megaphones blaring out emergency sirens, but look deeper and that siren was sounding for a reason.

The hundreds of health and social care staff at the largest protest outside Belfast was testimony to the fact that frustrations had reached breaking point.

Emergency Department nurses said that while patients are foremost in their minds, they had been forced to take strike action over fears for the safety of people who find themselves in their care.

"You start your 12-hour shift in horrendous conditions," one Emergency Department nurse told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Patients are coming at you for everything - tea, coffee, medical care. You don't have time to give people the care they need.

"You can't get people to the toilet. It's embarrassing, you have to tell patients you have no bed for them, you don't have a pillow for them, tell staff they can't have their breaks. We need a safe staffing level. It's degrading."

Another described her experience of working in the department as "horrendous".

"Take a walk through. There are six beds," she said. "That's it. We've had enough."

Unison's national assistant general secretary, Christina McAnea, said members had simply had enough of watching the years of health service neglect.

"What's really important is that we've exposed the fact that people in Northern Ireland who work in health and social care don't get the same pay as the rest of the UK. That's a total and utter scandal," she said.

Unison's joint branch secretary Nicky Shaw said the crowds would have been greater but some members had to work.

"The system is under pressure, but still going," he said. "All our members wanted to be here to show support."

While there were huge crowds of staff on the picket lines in Antrim, the numbers outside Magherafelt's Mid-Ulster Hospital were smaller, a symptom of the decline the hospital has suffered over the past two decades.

Linda Convery, from Maghera, is a residential social care worker in a children's home. She said the hours she is expected to carry out are staggering.

"We would work 24 and a half hour shifts. Conditions are very, very stressful. Long hours, no breaks, working through the night," she said.

"I'm in a constant state of exhaustion. Politicians must think about us, about the people who need our care, who are affected by all the overworked, exhausted and demoralised staff. That's why it's come to a day like today."

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