Swann closes in on deal to avert strike by Northern Ireland NHS staff
The Health Minister was last night thrashing out the fine details of a deal to bring an end to strike action by NHS staff.
The unions spent a large part of yesterday in meetings with Robin Swann as they worked to come to an agreement over pay and staffing levels.
Mr Swann has given a commitment to meet the unions' demands for pay parity with the rest of the UK after the UUP MLA secured £30m additional funding from future budgets.
He has also given assurances that he will implement measures to increase the number of staff working in the health service.
However, it is understood the health unions wanted exact details about these plans before taking the proposals to their councils for a final decision.
The unions are due to meet separately today to discuss the details of the proposed deal.
However, time is running out for an agreement to be reached in time to avert further disruption to services next week.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is planning further strike action next Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
The health trusts are beginning to put in place measures, including cancelling appointments, in the event the strike action goes ahead.
However, speaking ahead of yesterday's crunch talks, director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, Pat Cullen, said she needed further reassurance over safe staffing in order to recommend next week's strike action is called off.
"I do not have enough detail and reassurance that I could put to the Northern Ireland board and propose that we suspend our strike action," she said.
Details, including when staff will receive their backdated pay rise, had not been confirmed yesterday morning.
Hopes have been rising that a deal can be done after the politicians returned to Stormont at the weekend and ministers were put in post. Throughout the negotiations, the permanent secretary for the Department of Health, Richard Pengelly, had insisted only a minister could overturn the earlier controversial decision to break pay parity.