Northern Ireland healthcare workers take to picket lines as Stormont deal on table
Northern Ireland healthcare workers have again taken to picket lines across Northern Ireland.
A walkout was staged just hours after Secretary of State Julian Smith and Tanaiste Simon Coveney published a the New Decade, New Approach document on Thursday evening.
Julian Smith has said if political parties accept the deal to restore power sharing at Stormont, industrial action by nurses could end.
Royal College of Nurses (RCN) took to picket lines alongside Unison healthcare workers.
A spokeswoman for the RCN said they had no comment to make about the possible restoration of the Stormont institutions.
"Our strike is going ahead as planned," she said.
Nine thousand RCN members began a 12-hour strike at 8am.
They were joined by Unison workers from the Belfast, Northern, South Eastern and Western health trusts- for the strike, which resulted in thousands of outpatient appointments being cancelled.
Disruption has been felt across Northern Ireland's five main health trusts.
The Belfast Trust has cancelled 1,064 outpatient appointments and 106 inpatient and day cases.
A number of special schools have been closed. They are Torr Bank, Oakwood and Mitchell House schools, amounting to 243 students in total.
Mid-Ulster, South Tyrone, Bangor and Ards Minor Injuries Units have also been closed.
All patients affected have been contacted and given new appointments.
The South Eastern Trust has cancelled 340 outpatient appointments and 89 procedures.
The Western Trust has cancelled 383 outpatient appointments and 50 inpatient procedures.
It has also cancelled 700 treatment room appointments, along with all out-patient clinics on Friday morning at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry.
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In the Northern Trust, 30 outpatient appointments have been cancelled, as well as 1,500 treatment room appointments and 850 district nursing appointments.
In the Southern Trust, 43 surgical procedures have been postponed and approximately 145 treatment room appointments cancelled.
Hundreds of school and infant immunisations have also been postponed.
It's also expected there will be greater pressures on emergency departments.
Healthcare workers are calling for pay parity with their colleagues in the rest of the UK and have expressed concern around safe staffing levels.
Earlier this week, RCN director Pat Cullen said "the finger was being pointed" at nurses over the current health service crisis.
"I want to categorically say it's absolutely not the nurses fault. Nurses do feel bullied by people saying 'enough is enough' and that they should call off this strike action," she said.
Interim Chief Executive of the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust Seamus McGoran said the trusts "completely support the staff in their legitimate claim for pay parity".
"We are not blaming staff for taking industrial action, we understand why they have taken the action they have taken," he told the BBC
"It is very important for staff to keep calm in this situation."
Julian Smith said there would be no extra funding from the British government until the Executive was restored.
The Department of Health previously said it did not have the authority to meet union demands over pay and staffing.
Mr Smith said: "This will take the nurses parity pay issue off the table, it will get the nurses back into work, this will deal with issues in education, childcare and across the public sector and today is the day that is the moment of truth."
Belfast Telegraph Digital