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Workers who walked out 'buoyed by public support'

Striking medical and education staff in Londonderry said they were buoyed by the public support they were receiving at picket lines across the North West.

Almost 200 patients were affected by the cancellation of outpatient clinics and surgery sessions within the Western Health Trust area yesterday.

A further 150 couldn’t access other procedures.

At the entrance to Altnagelvin Hospital however a steady stream of beeping horns greeted the medical and mental health nurses, porters, administration staff and ambulance crews.

Despite being battered by high winds and driving rain throughout the day, the numbers swelled at lunchtime as union colleagues came out in solidarity.

The Western Health and Social Care Trust and Unison officials had worked out a deal to provide emergency cover during the 24-hour industrial action.

Health workers said that society understood they were “not standing out here for our own health but for the future health of the public we actually serve.”

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John Kay, Northern Ireland Ambulance Service Unison branch chairman, made the comment as he and his colleagues joined the picket line.

Mr Kay said: “We have taken efficiency savings, we have lost ambulances and are at times left with skeleton crews.

“From 5pm in the evening we have two crews now because of efficiency savings. We can’t take any more.”

Trevor Lucy, health branch secretary said the striking workers were “quite pleased” with the turnout and the public reaction. “This is the first time these staff have probably ever striked in their lives and there has been a great turnout,” he said.

Groups of mental health nurses at the entrance to the hospital agreed. Nurse Liam Boyle said that patients were likely to suffer greatly from any further cutbacks. “They are cutting services left, right and centre and that means we are already not spending as much time with patients,” he said.

Medical nurses meanwhile expressed concern that not only current trainee nurses, but many who had graduated six or seven years ago, were struggling to find work in the profession because of cutbacks and temporary workers being drafted in.

Meanwhile classroom assistants, cleaning, canteen, caretaker and supervisor staff from special, primary and secondary schools in the North West came together in Derry city centre yesterday afternoon.

Staff from several local nurseries also decided to come out in solidarity with the workers, who handed in a letter of protest at the office.

Christine O’Kane, special needs classroom assistant at Belmont House Special School, said: “What is under threat here is our jobs and I think people know that and support us.”

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