Belfast Telegraph

'He needs to do something': UUP's Beattie urges Secretary of State Smith to address escalating health crisis in Northern Ireland

Nurses gathered at the gates of the Royal Victoria Hospital staging industrial action in protest at pay and unsafe staffing levels. December 2, 2019
Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
Nurses gathered at the gates of the Royal Victoria Hospital staging industrial action in protest at pay and unsafe staffing levels. December 2, 2019 Photo Laura Davison/Pacemaker Press
Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

UUP MLA Doug Beattie has urged Secretary of State Julian Smith to step in and take action to address the Northern Ireland health crisis.

The Upper Bann MLA said health workers should be given pay parity with their colleagues in the rest of the UK and a low-interest loan taken out to pay for it.

Mr Beattie said Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly should be given authorisation to borrow the money which could be repaid over a 25-year period.

"We are dealing with an extreme crisis right now where people are dieing on waiting lists. I've got personal experience of people dieing on waiting lists, I think it's a good debt to be able to do this to value our clinical and non-clinical staff," he said.

Northern Ireland's health service has been pushed to the brink with nurses and other health workers beginning industrial action ahead of strike action later this month.

Mr Smith is set to meet with representatives of Unison and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) on Thursday.

Appearing on BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show to discuss his party's General Election manifesto Mr Beattie said Mr Smith should be using his power to address the crisis.

"I'm not passing the buck to Julian Smith, but as our Secretary of State he needs to do something," the Upper Bann MLA said.

"He should transfer health back to Westminster to a direct rule minister in order to make decisions."

Mr Beattie acknowledged that would not fix the problem, but said "we cannot just sit here and wait".

"How long do we wait? We've already waited three years. We had people dying on waiting lists in 2016. That has got worse, the situation is absolutely intolerable," the former British Army Captain said.

"If this is North Yorkshire, which is the Secretary of State's constituency, there would have been an emergency declared already and they would have taken action."

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith (Liam McBurney/PA)

Mr Beattie also addressed an Irish Language Act saying his party could not support any language act as they feared it would create further division in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein have insisted an Irish language act must be part of any agreement to return power sharing at Stormont.

"You could go down one road and you'll see street signs and services which are in English and Irish and go down another road and you'll see signs in English and Ulster Scots," Mr Beattie said.

Doug Beattie

Sinn Fein's manifesto states surveys should be conducted in areas to see if the majority of residents are in favour of Irish language signage.

Upper Bann MLA Beattie said the proposal did not alleviate his "very real concerns".

"You go to any post-conflict society and you look at how culture and language can divide as well as unite," he said.

Mr Beattie cited the example of the city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina which he said had two different fire brigades speaking two different languages.

"That's an extreme and I'm not saying that's going to happen in Northern Ireland, but in five, 10, 15 years time I don't want to go down (that road)."

He said that while his party could not support Irish language laws, it would not and indeed could not block any new act coming into force.

Mr Beattie pointed out that the Irish language has grown in Northern Ireland following the UUP's support for the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

"People think just because I don't want an act that I have an issue with the Irish language and I want to say to people I genuinely do not. I class myself as Irish, I've always classed myself as Irish."

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