Northern Ireland health workers' industrial action to 'significantly disrupt' services, says trust boss
Nurses and paramedics are set to begin strike action at midnight.
Industrial action being taken by healthcare workers in Northern Ireland has the potential to "significantly disrupt" services, the chief executive of the Northern Trust has said.
Dr Tony Stevens, speaking on Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster, said the strike action is exacerbating an already difficult situation for the health service.
"It has the potential to disrupt services very significantly," Dr Stevens said.
"Our job is to ensure that the trade unions and our staff can have an effective strike but a safe strike.
"We are concerned that we can't quite assure ourselves that we will have enough staff tomorrow."
Strike action is due to begin at midnight on Tuesday. Trade unions called the strike in protest at pay and staffing levels which they claim are "unsafe". Nurses are set to strike for 12 hours on Wednesday while paramedics are also set to stage a 24-hour walk out.
Dr Stevens said the health service had just experienced one of its busiest weekends of the year and that an increase in cases of flu was putting extra strain on services.
"Trade unions and staff are proceeding with industrial action at a challenging time," he added.
"The difficulty for me and all the chief executives is that in one part we support and understand what are staff are doing. We certainly don't want to disrespect what they are saying and doing but at the same time we have to find a way through this with them that ensures that we deliver safe services.
"We have some work to do in the next 24 hours with our trade union colleagues to make sure there are enough staff in the right places to delivery the essential services we need to delivery tomorrow."
Dr Stevens warned trade unions not to escalate strike action or risk losing public support.
"My personal view is that they (trade unions) need to be exceeding careful now that they don't continue to escalate this. That we continue to work together in the next 12 to 24 hours to make sure we delivery safe services."
Asked whether the public anger will turn on nurses or politicians if strike action leads to serious harm of patients, Mr Stevens said: "I think it will be plague on all our houses if we get this seriously wrong in the next few days."
Dr Stevens, who is speaking on behalf of all health trust chief executives in Northern Ireland, said trusts will not have enough nurses to run minor injury departments, meaning doctors will have to staff these roles.
Dr Stevens added: "We are going to be very dependant on our medical staff who are not taking strike action. It is important the public know that doctors are working as normal.
"We will be relying very heavily on doctors to do some of the tasks that nurses would have otherwise have done.
"We are shrinking our emergency departments down to make sure we can care for the sickest and most critical patients."
Belfast Telegraph Digital