Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland politicians are to blame for all of this, insists nurse 'sick to her stomach' at idea of strike

Health service workers on strike at Altnagelvin Area Hospital yesterday
Health service workers on strike at Altnagelvin Area Hospital yesterday
Aontu’s Dr Anne McCloskey
Donna Deeney

By Donna Deeney

A nurse on the picket line at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry said she was "sick to her stomach at the idea of strike action" - but would have felt much worse if she hadn't taken part.

Helena Phelan is a respiratory specialist nurse who should have been on duty on the wards in Altnagelvin Hospital yesterday - the first of two strike days in the Western Trust.

It came as industrial action by Northern Ireland health workers continued into a second week. Workers are unhappy about pay and claim staffing levels are "unsafe".

Yesterday, Unison nurses at Londonderry's Altnagelvin Area Hospital joined industrial action.

Ms Phelan said: "I am one of the respiratory nurses specialists at Altnagelvin and I was really not comfortable about taking action today.

"In fact I was sick to my stomach at the thought of it.

"Having said that, I would have been sick to my stomach if I hadn't come out in support of the strike.

"The reason I am out here standing and not on the ward is the fault of the politicians who did not support us along the way.

"It was the politicians who didn't give us pay parity all those years ago, who decided to undermine us - not just [former DUP health minister] Jim Wells, but all those who came after him as well." This was the first of two days of action in the Western Trust area by Unison members.

Joe McCusker, regional organiser for Unison, said he recognises the disruption to patients the strike is causing but said workers have public support.

He said: "Nurses, nursing assistants and care assistants from across all hospitals in the Western Trust withdrew their labour from 8am to 2pm.

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Aontu’s Dr Anne McCloskey

"We recognise that this action is causing disruption and the cancellation of some appointments and we do regret that.

"However, we have had a lot of support from the public and from patients who have had their appointments cancelled.

"We need political will, the Secretary of State and the Department of Health to bring this to an end so we can get back to work.

"To achieve pay parity, we estimate there needs to be an additional £22-25m and we believe that sum can be accessed by either the department or the Secretary of State."

Kathy McBride has worked as an advanced paediatric nurse practitioner at Altnagelvin for 20 years. She said: "I love my job but, like my colleagues, I felt it was time to stand up, not just for us but for the people of Northern Ireland.

"Our health service is in a terrible state and we think the people of Northern Ireland deserve better and so do we - we deserve to have the same pay as everyone else. We are being asked to work longer, unpaid hours and while we actually don't mind doing that, we can only do that for so long.

"People are getting tired and morale is not the best.

"We have lost about 15 colleagues who have gone abroad or over to England to take up new posts where they will be paid thousands more for doing the same job they had here.

"We see how people are suffering - they are on waiting lists for years and every day in A&E is over-capacity.

"The people of Northern Ireland deserve better than that. We all deserve so much better, which is why I am standing here with my colleagues."

Joining those on the picket line at Altnagelvin was Aontu General Election candidate Dr Anne McCloskey.

"I worked for the NHS since 1981 which is all of my professional lifetime," she said.

"I am 100% in solidarity with my colleagues on this picket line. [That] in this day and age nurses are having to use food banks is just incredible. They need to be afforded the dignity and respect of a proper wage, in keeping with their training and experience.

"I also see the other side of it, people waiting for maybe four years in pain for a hip replacement and their families being pushed into the private sector, taking out loans from the Credit Union just so their loved ones don't have to suffer.

"These people are here because of their pay but they are here, too, because of the health and wellbeing of the NHS which is one of the most important institutions in our state."

SDLP health spokesman, Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan, said those on the picket lines were right to be angry.

He said: "Challenging times warrant the need for difficult decisions to be made.

"Our front line health staff have felt the full force of the lack of an Executive here and the lack of a voice in Westminster. They see it day-to-day with the ever-increasing waiting lists, the inability to deliver under diminishing resources and their daily struggle to bridge the gaps within the system."

A spokeswoman for the Western Trust said it made contact with patients directly affected by the action.

"A small number of appointments in Children's and Adolescents Mental Health Services (CAMHS) scheduled for Monday, December 9 were postponed," she said. "These appointments will be prioritised and rearranged as soon as possible.

"All outpatients and red flag day case appointments at Altnagelvin Hospital, Omagh Hospital and Primary Care Complex and South West Acute Hospital proceeded as planned.

"Once again we apologise to all our patients affected by the strike action.

"Our main priority is to maintain a safe environment for patients and staff alike across our facilities."

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