Belfast Telegraph

NI health crisis: Defiant NHS staff break bosses 'gagging order' to speak out on devastating working conditions

Health workers on the picket line yesterday at the Ulster Hospital Dundonald
Health workers on the picket line yesterday at the Ulster Hospital Dundonald
Health workers on the picket line yesterday at the Ulster Hospital Dundonald
Health workers on the picket line yesterday at the Ulster Hospital Dundonald
Health workers on the picket line yesterday at the Ulster Hospital Dundonald
Lisa Smyth

By Lisa Smyth

Health service staff who speak publicly about the ongoing industrial action have been threatened with disciplinary action, it has been claimed.

Public service union Unison has said its members have been warned they should not give interviews to the media.

Despite the apparent attempt to gag staff, defiant healthcare staff yesterday spoke out to reveal the devastating conditions in which they are working.

And they described the last chance offer made to unions on Thursday night as "derisory" and "insulting".

One nurse, a member of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said: "I am just out of my GP where I was given medication for my blood pressure.

"I've never had any problem with my blood pressure before, but that's what all of this is doing to my health.

"We work 12-hour shifts and don't even get a chance to get a sip of water.

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"I can't take the stress, I have a management position and I've lost count of the times I have walked in and found my nurses crying in the sluice because they can't cope with the conditions any more.

"I have always been so proud of the health service, but it is now getting to the point where I wouldn't want to go into hospital, which is where I'm headed, because it isn't safe anymore."

Meanwhile, some Northern Trust employees at the picket line at Antrim Area Hospital also described their fears for patients as a result of years of underfunding of the service.

They said the severe shortage of staff has resulted in care being compromised as overstretched workers find it impossible to carry out all of their tasks.

And they also described the struggle to make ends meet on their wages.

A care worker who works in the mental health and learning disability service said: "I find it very hard to understand why the Department of Health made the offer that they did because the mandate from Unison members was for pay parity with the rest of the UK.

"I'm a single parent trying to support two children through university and I have worked for more than 30 years in a job that I love.

"I never thought I would get to this point, at my stage of life, where I don't know if I am going to make it to the end of the month."

Another Unison member, a community care worker, said: "If it wasn't for my brother and sister to borrow money from I don't know what I would do.

"I have seen a decline in the service over the years and it is no longer safe.

"We are given 15 minutes for each person and that includes arriving, reading the care plan and carrying out all the tasks, which could include tending to personal care, making sure they have a meal, and giving them their medication.

"That is before you even think about trying to meet the emotional needs of the person.

"We're supposed to do five shifts a week but I normally do 10 and I know of some girls who do 14 shifts a week - it's not safe.

"The offer made by the Department of Health is shameful and I'm glad it was rejected."

Stephanie Greenwood, branch chair of Unison's Northern Trust branch, said conditions inside the hospital were just as precarious.

"I walked through the hospital this morning and went through a medical ward and there were 27 patients being looked after by three nurses and two auxiliary staff," she said.

"There were more than 100 patients in the emergency department waiting to be admitted or waiting to be seen.

"So this argument is about more than just money, we want a vast improvement to patient safety as well.

"Members gave a mandate for pay parity and they fully support the senior negotiating team's rejection of the pay offer made by the Department of Health."

A last-ditch attempt by health bosses to stave off further industrial action was rejected by unions on Thursday. It is understood there was no further communication between the unions and the Department of Health yesterday after the talks broke down without an agreement. Health bosses are now preparing themselves for further industrial action, with the RCN scheduling strike action on December 18, which is likely to bring the health service to its knees. They have warned patients face further misery as a result of the latest development.

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