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Editor's Viewpoint

NHS staff bonus a well-deserved one



Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

The proposal to give health workers in Northern Ireland a special recognition payment of £500 each for their work in combating Covid-19 is well deserved.

As Health Minister Robin Swann said, society can never repay those who put their lives on the line to save others. They not only went the extra mile, they went many extra miles.

All they had received to date was the public clap for NHS workers. That may have shown the doctors, nurses and all other staff that their work was appreciated but it had no material value.

As ever, the devil will be in the detail. First of all the Department of Finance at Stormont has to approve the payment and then there will need to be detailed discussions with Treasury and the tax authorities to ensure that the payment does not leave low paid workers worse off by affecting any benefits they may be receiving already or that it will be taxed.

Mr Swann deserves credit for coming up with the idea - although it has already been proposed in Scotland - and there is no doubt that he has great admiration for NHS staff and the work that they do.

But he needs to be careful that this act of generosity is not seen as some sort of pay rise. He was quick to settle the nurses strike when he took office a year ago, but nurses complained in October past that they still had not been repaid the money they were docked while on strike.

And the Royal College of Nursing is seeking a 12.5% pay rise across all bands as part of the UK-wide Fair Pay for Nursing campaign.

It should be remembered that health authorities in Northern Ireland spend a staggering £115m annually on temporary staff to cover vacancies in the profession.

What is required is a proper pay structure for NHS staff and also the introduction of reforms to ensure there are adequate staffing levels and resources. The coronavirus pandemic has shown that the NHS was teetering on the edge of collapse during the various surges in hospital admissions.

It was only the herculean efforts of staff, at risk to themselves physically and mentally, which ensured care was delivered to those in most need.

There should be no problem in giving NHS staff the money promised by Mr Swann. There is around £430m in the coffers at Stormont which has been unspent and which the Department of Finance may be forced to return to the Treasury if it is not spent by the end of the financial year.

NHS staff are surely the most deserving recipients of at least some of that money.

Belfast Telegraph