Belfast Telegraph

Anne Speed: Public funds should go to public health staff, not agencies

An NHS worker outside the Mater Hospital during a 2017 rally
An NHS worker outside the Mater Hospital during a 2017 rally

By Anne Speed

Unison's membership across the health trusts and arm's-length bodies in dispute will ballot on to November 11. Some 25,000 health staff in all parts of the service are deciding on withdrawing their labour, working to rule, restricting their overtime availability and other forms of non co-operation. After months of discussions with employers and the Department of Health on issues of staffing levels, agency overspend and unfair pay, Unison members have declared their frustration with the situation they find themselves in.

Health staff in Northern Ireland are part of the UK-funded NHS, yet over the past few years their pay has fallen behind. The NHS pay system 'Agenda For Change' received a three-year funded boost from the UK Treasury. Yet that funding did not translate into a fair uplift for health workers here.

The NI Department of Health has declared it can only uplift on a year-on-year basis. It imposed a pay uplift for 2018. NHS workers in Cardiff, London or Glasgow have already received a second year uplift yet workers here, due an uplift April last, still have no clarity on what's on the table for them.

There are over 2,000 nurse vacancies unfilled due to workforce supply reasons. Unison contends that previous neglect of workforce planning and bad decision-making during the years of the strategy 'Transforming Your Care', which we challenged, contributed to this shortage.

We are also adamant that the absence of fair pay has compounded the problem. Equally the crisis management strategies used since, paying private agencies more than £52m in nursing and midwifery, have brought the scenario to a crisis level.

Unison believes the most immediate step to be taken is to restore fair pay to the already stretched workforce followed by a determined and effective plan to divert the use of public money way from agency spending and back into support for staff and the services they deliver.

Anne Speed is head of bargaining and representation at Unison NI

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