Belfast Telegraph

I’ve waited for five years, then this happens - Fury as NHS strike leads to cancelled operations

Gordon Downey was furious after his operation was cancelled
Gordon Downey was furious after his operation was cancelled
Proposal: Richard Pengelly

By David Young and Eimear McGovern

Patients were left furious on Friday night after learning their planned surgeries and outpatient appointments have been cancelled by the Belfast Health Trust next Monday, Tuesday and Thursday because of industrial action by staff.

The Trust has apologised for the "disruption and distress" caused to patients and their families and said cancelled appointments will be rebooked at a later date.

"The safety of our patients is our number one concern and regretfully we have had to take this decision," it said.

Members of the Unison trade union began strike action over unsafe staffing levels and the lack of pay parity with NHS workers across the rest of the UK.

The industrial action comes as the permanent secretary at the Department of Health Richard Pengelly asked trade unions to pause industrial action taken by health and social care workers.

He has asked unions to enter into an independent conciliation process so a plan can be formed for any incoming Stormont Executive asking them to not allow "a bad situation to become worse".

"We are ready and willing to enter into a conciliation process with unions to map out an implementation plan for incoming ministers," he said.

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The chief executive of the Belfast Trust said more than 10,000 patients will be affected.

Members of the Unison trade union began strike action over unsafe staffing levels and the lack of pay parity with NHS workers across the rest of the UK.

Unison represents about 25,000 healthcare workers including nurses, social care staff, support services but not doctors.

Members at Craigavon, Musgrave Park and Omagh Hospitals started strike action on Thursday, while an ongoing strike at Belfast City Hospital is set to continue.

The first phase of strike action is to end on December 18.

Coleraine man Gordon Downey (48) contacted the Belfast Telegraph last night after surgery to his arm which he'd been waiting five years for was cancelled at short notice.

The operation was to have taken place at Belfast's Musgrave Park Hospital - but was cancelled on Thursday.

"I waited three years - from 2014 to 2017 - to see a consultant, and two more years for a date for my operation at Musgrave Park Hospital," he said.

"It was to be done on December 5, but on Thursday I was phoned and told it was off.

"They said they were short staffed.

"I now have to go next January to see the same consultant I met once two years ago - and my operation is cancelled."

Asked how he felt about the NHS crisis, Mr Downey said: "Totally and utterly disgusted. I pay my stamp.

"The whole country is in a mess, but the NHS is broken. Absolutely broken.

"People talk about how good the NHS is. It's not. It's rubbish.

"It's brilliant if you are in a car accident. You're taken to hospital and your chance of survival is great. But if you are in the system for any form of pre-planned surgery - forget it. The system is absolutely rubbish.

"I have no doubt that people are dying because of the chaos.

"I genuinely think they put people on waiting lists and hope they will get fed up and go private.

"The fundamental principle is that your taxes pay for the National Health Service, and it should be provided - and it's not.

"I want my money back. If I'm not getting the service, what is the money for?"

Asked if he had any sympathy with the striking health service workers, Mr Downey said he felt the strike could bring things to a head.

"It will draw attention to what's happening.

"It will be a catalyst for some form of change. It has to change. It's horrific.

"I don't blame the people that are striking. I don't blame them for my operation being cancelled. But I blame the system for making me wait five years."

It was revealed this week that Northern Ireland's health system has been the worst performing of any UK region and has a track record of missing waiting time targets.

Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken has written to the Secretary of State Julian Smith asking him to place the five Health and Social Care Trusts across Northern Ireland into special measures over the waiting time statistics.

He described it as a "humanitarian crisis" and said the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland can no longer sit back as a member of the government "and refuse to govern".

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