Belfast Telegraph

Health chief says suffering 'inevitable' as strikes begin

Richard Pengelly
Richard Pengelly
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

The head of the Department of Health in Northern Ireland said it was "inevitable" that patients would suffer as health workers began strike action over pay and staffing levels yesterday.

Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly added that there was "deep regret" over the industrial action that has forced the Department for Health to implement "intensive contingency planning" to lessen the impact on health service users.

"It is inevitable that there will be an impact on patients," he said. "This has been publicly acknowledged by the trade union leadership.

"I can assure everyone that the department did everything in its power to prevent industrial action. This included a pay offer that would add 2.1% to the pay bill for Agenda for Change staff."

Agenda for Change is the national pay system for all NHS staff, with the exception of doctors, dentists and the most senior managers.

"In addition, we proposed an independently facilitated process to develop longer-term solutions on pay and staffing issues in nursing and the wider HSC workforce.

"The budgetary pressures on health are very well known.

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"In the absence of ministers, departments continue to face unprecedented challenges and we trust trade unions appreciate that public servants are trying to do their best in a very difficult situation."

Ahead of the second day of action by members, Unison head of bargaining and representation Anne Speed praised workers for their "bravery" in defending their health service.

"Yesterday our members took a firm stand," she said.

"Today we lay down a challenge to every employer, their chief executives and their boards of directors to remember that their responsibility is to the public that they serve and their workforce. They should join us in demanding pay parity and safe staffing levels.

"Categories of staff taking action will include nursing, ambulance service staff, support services staff, admin, clerical and managerial staff, social services and social care staff, professional and technical staff, and all those staff working across the various health services agencies."

The head of the NI Civil Service, David Sterling, said he was very aware of the deep frustrations in public sector workforces.

"This reflects many successive years of budgetary pressures and pay restraint," he said.

"The frustrations are very evident and it is a matter of great regret for us all to see discontent of this level among colleagues.

"There are no easy fixes to these problems but dialogue offers the best way forward."

Belfast Telegraph


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