Belfast Telegraph

New health minister Robin Swann to meet trade unions in bid to resolve industrial dispute

UUP MLA Robin Swann has been appointed the health minister
UUP MLA Robin Swann has been appointed the health minister

New health minister Robin Swann has requested a meeting with trade unions in a bid to resolve the ongoing industrial action.

The former Ulster Unionist leader was yesterday nominated as health minister as powersharing was restored following thee years of political paralysis.

Health unions have been taking strike action over pay parity and staffing levels, which nurses say are unsafe.

Mr Swann said: "I am happy to confirm that contact has been made with trade unions and I will be meeting with them as soon as possible this week. I'm looking forward to getting this dispute sorted right away.

"Obviously, the financial package for the new Executive and support from other Ministerial colleagues will be central to making that happen.

"We need our nurses and other health workers back at work. There's a massive challenge for all of us in making our health service better and our great staff have a vital role to play in that."

Pat Cullen, director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Northern Ireland welcomed Robin Swann as the new health minister and called for an immediate meeting to begin the process of resolving the dispute over pay parity and staffing levels.

"Nurses could not have made it clearer that they do not want to be standing on picket lines losing yet more pay," she said.

"They want to get back on the wards and in the community, treating and caring for patients like they should be. We require strong political leadership and if we are able to get a formal assurance from our new Health Minister that our requirements will be met, we may be in a position to suspend further industrial action.

“The New Decade, New Approach deal provides an opportunity to take forward many of issues that need urgently addressed and is a basis upon which to take further steps to ensure that our health service becomes truly fit for purpose. This will not happen overnight but must begin urgently.

“We ended the last decade in despair but I hope we can now take forward this decade with optimism and put a plan in place to make our health service something we can be proud of.”

Anne Speed, from Unison, said: "We congratulate the minister on his election. This prompt move by minister Swan is recognition that the determination and courage of thousands of health workers has made the health service the key priority for our new government. There is little doubt that it also created positive political movement.

"Everyone in the health workforce has played their part and sustained a historic campaign of action since 25 November 2019.

"From nurses to cleaners and cooks, from porters to occupational therapists, from paramedics to clericial workers, from home care workers to transport drivers and all grades in between, they have stood up for their rights and the rights of their patients."

Ms Speed has written to Mr Swann, Permanent Health Secretary Richard Pengelly and the chief executives of all trusts.

She added: "The bona fides of the commitments given to health workers by the Secretary of State and the parties forming the new Executive will be directly tested in the coming days. We anticipate a positive outcome."

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