Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Health strike must spur MLAs to action

Today is the day we hoped we would never see, when health workers, including for the first time front line nurses, go on strike. It is a serious escalation of the industrial action for pay parity with peers in other parts of the UK
Today is the day we hoped we would never see, when health workers, including for the first time front line nurses, go on strike. It is a serious escalation of the industrial action for pay parity with peers in other parts of the UK

Editor's Viewpoint

Today is the day we hoped we would never see, when health workers, including for the first time front line nurses, go on strike. It is a serious escalation of the industrial action for pay parity with peers in other parts of the UK.

It does not take a soothsayer to realise that this crisis is deepening and that, in spite of all assurances, there will be pain borne by the people for whom the NHS exists - those who are ill and need attention.

Yet the public know where the blame lies for the current situation, in previous Conservative governments' austerity policies and in the decision when they were last working almost three years ago by local politicians of all hues to diverge from national pay scales.

In last week's General Election the two main parties who were responsible for the stasis in devolution got the message that for once voters were pointing the finger of blame at them and that has shamed them into a new talks process aimed at getting Stormont back to work.

Yesterday the five main parties tried to coerce Secretary of State Julian Smith into funding an increase for the health workers. They said their letter urging this action gave him cover but, rightly, he pointed out that health is a devolved matter and by inference told them they had had plenty of time to avert the crisis and could still do so by going back to work.

Crisis is a word often bandied about somewhat recklessly, but there can be no mistaking what is happening in the health service. Staff shortages, workers being under-paid and over-stretched and an inability to recruit more permanent staff shows a public service teetering on the edge of a precipice.

Two stories in our newspaper today show how the crisis impacts on individuals. Our religion correspondent Alf McCreary had to spend £10,500 of his own money for a hip operation in Dublin or else suffer severe pain for at least two years. And the mother of journalist Leona O'Neill was diagnosed with cancer during the current industrial action which affected the speed of her treatment and caused great anxiety to her and her family.

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But the authors stress the ability and determination of those working in the health service to give the best possible treatment against the odds. Sadly a last ditch attempt to avert today's industrial action failed but perhaps it will redouble the efforts of everyone to solve the crisis. Patients cannot be pawns, wittingly or otherwise, in a battle of wills.

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