Belfast Telegraph

Health strike: Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith says crisis 'unacceptable'

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith (Liam McBurney/PA)
Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith (Liam McBurney/PA)

The health crisis facing Northern Ireland is "unacceptable", NI Secretary Julian Smith has said.

Health workers have taken action in protest over pay and staffing levels, which they claim are putting patients at risk.

Mr Smith made the comments during a meeting with the Northern Ireland Civil Service and trade unions in Belfast on Wednesday.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said he was "extremely sorry" that the strike was impacting on patients, families and NHS staff.

Unison, the union that represents 6,500 registered nurses and 3,500 health care assistants, is calling for extra funding to address their concerns.

However, Mr Smith has said the matter is for a Stormont Executive to resolve despite the Assembly not functioning since January 2017.

Mr Smith pledged to have further conversations with the civil service and unions in the coming days.

He told the BBC: "This area of health is a devolved matter so the decisions have to be taken by the NI Civil Service, they are working in difficult circumstances because Stormont's not running.

"But I am working with them to see if we can find a way through."

Mr Smith added that the situation was "unacceptable" and that he would do "whatever I can within the powers I have to help the NI Civil Service move this forward."

Asked about whether any new funding would for made available, he maintained that the negotiations will be led by the civil service.

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