Belfast Telegraph

More than 10,000 affected as Belfast Trust cancels outpatient appointments

Belfast Trust has apologised for the "disruption and distress" caused to patients

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.
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.

By Eimear McGovern

All outpatient appointments and planned surgery have been cancelled by the Belfast Health Trust next Monday, Tuesday and Thursday due to strikes 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," they 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 chief executive of the Belfast Trust said more than 10,000 patients will be affected.

Meanwhile, the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust said they are working to put contingency plans in place to minimise disruption.

They've advised patients most services are operating normally.

However, routine outpatient appointments at the Ulster Hospital on Wednesday have been cancelled, with the exception of maternity and children's services.

The outpatient department at the Ulster, Lagan Valley, Downe, Ards and Bangor hospitals,  will be closed in the afternoon on Friday. Day case surgery at Lagan Valley Hospital has been cancelled.

"The scale and the scope of industrial action we're facing is such that we have to stand down these services in the interests of patient safety," said Martin Dillon of the Belfast Trust, speaking to the BBC.

He confirmed that "about 1,000 elective procedures" had to be cancelled.

Are you one of the 10,000 patients impacted? Contact us at digital.editorial@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

After being told by the Trust their appointments had been cancelled, a source told the Belfast Telegraph a number of patients were still receiving notifications of their planned procedures next week.

Outpatient appointments, day case procedures and planned surgeries and admissions at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Children’s Hospital,  Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital, School of Dentistry, Belfast City Hospital, Mater Hospital and Musgrave Park Hospital have been affected.

The Trust said it anticipates "that all services will be delivered as normal" next Friday.

Vivian McConvey is the chief executive of the Patient and Client Council, which is supported by the Department of Health.

"This isn't a single issue problem, this is a systemic problem across the whole of the health service. I am there to give the voice and give potential solutions.

"My solution is we need to get all of the people into the room and understand what's happening. It takes a collective response.

"Everybody knows about this and there have been meetings every year when we have done our client support report.

"What we would say about the health trusts is reach out to the people sitting in their homes, they feel they are the forgotten people."

It 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.

Northern Ireland has been without a minister for almost three years. Talks are scheduled to start next month aimed at restoring power sharing.

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 expected to end on December 18.

It was revealed on Thursday 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.

New figures show that 94,000 people in Northern Ireland are waiting more than a year for an appointment with a consultant.

That's compared with 3,364 in England - despite England's population being 30 times larger.

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".

"He must intervene and place the local health service into special measures," Mr Aiken said.

"The day to day response to the crisis must then come under the oversight of a new board put in place by the Government. The precedent is regularly set across the rest of Great Britain."

Department of Health permanent secretary Richard Pengelly said it was clear the health service was in a fragile state which will be exacerbated by strike action.

"The latest disturbing waiting time statistics have just been released, hospital emergency departments remain under severe pressure and winter-related illnesses are impacting on the population.

"I fully understand the deep-seated anger and frustration of staff dealing with these escalating problems day and daily. Indeed, I share those feelings. My appeal to unions is simply this – please don’t allow a bad situation to become worse.

"The ultimate resolution to this dispute rests with ministers. The department does not have the budget or the authority to meet union demands on pay for this year – I understand how frustrating that position is for the trade unions, but it is the reality we face."

He added: "Trade unions have so far said they are unable to accept our conciliation proposals. I am now publicly urging them to think again."

The permanent secretary has written to colleagues across the health and social care system setting out the department’s proposals.

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