Belfast Telegraph

Forget green and orange politics is message at city demonstration

Pat Cullen (third left), director of the RCN in NI, with nurses outside the Royal Victoria Hospital
Pat Cullen (third left), director of the RCN in NI, with nurses outside the Royal Victoria Hospital
Hugh McAnoy
Patrick Woods

By Christopher Leebody

Staff on strike at the Royal Victoria Hospital yesterday demanded that politicians put the "green and orange issues aside" in order to fix Northern Ireland's crisis-hit health service.

Almost 15,000 National Health Service staff took to the picket line yesterday, with the Belfast hospital seeing one of the biggest demonstrations.

Patrick Woods has worked within the catering department of the hospital for 17 years.

Getting visibly emotional at times, the chef explained that he and his family were living "hand to mouth" due to the pay freezes - adding that he has known colleagues who have taken their lives over the pressure.

"Our wages have been capped at 1% while the cost of living goes up," he said.

"Year in, year out I see my wage stretching less and less. If I work a flat wage I don't even have enough to pay the bills.

"It is soul destroying to come into work and to be working seven days a week - week-in, week-out - just to keep your head above water.

"There have been a number of suicides among our nurses over the past five years. We see them covering two or three staff shortages per ward.

"They can only be stretched so far before they break.

"Our nurses are actually taking their own lives here. It is crazy. This strike should have happened a long time ago."

When asked what his message to politicians was, Mr Woods simply concluded that "something needs to change".

"£15m has been paid out for politicians' wages in the last few years, while we are feeding from scraps. I remember a decade ago, our wage going twice as far," he said.

The staff and union members gathered at the Falls Road entrance of the hospital were in good spirits, despite having been demonstrating in the wind and rain since 8am yesterday morning. Regularly being supplied with food from nearby businesses and routinely being interrupted by the horns of passing motorists, the level of public support was clear to see.

Hugh McAnoy has worked in decontamination services for 13 years at the Belfast Trust. He posed a direct challenge to Secretary of State Julian Smith and the parties currently engaged in Stormont talks.

He said: "It is about time the politicians and Julian Smith get the message that they need to fix the health service.

"We need a health minister. The public agree with us, they are fed up with Stormont point scoring against each other.

"The deadlock up there is ridiculous and it is now starting to affect the most important things in society - health and education.

"Green and orange politics is something we are not interested in. We are talking about people's lives here."

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