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Editor's Viewpoint

We should be glad military are at hand to help NI hospitals



Unison’s Patricia McKeown

Unison’s Patricia McKeown

Unison’s Patricia McKeown

In Northern Ireland there is a propensity to turn issues demanding consensus into matters of discord. Usually politicians are to blame which is understandable given the ideological chasm that separates the parties.

Politicians are never generous of spirit if they see an opportunity to score a cheap political point or grab another vote. It is the nature of the profession.

On this latest occasion the politicians were in agreement on the deployment of military medical personnel to help out hard-pressed and exhausted NHS staff in the battle against Covid. The apparent dissenting voice came from the large trade union, Unison, which said it would seek detailed reasons from Health Minister Robin Swann why the decision was taken and what other options had been explored.

The union's regional secretary Patricia McKeown was forced to clarify the union's position and in a new statement said it did not object to military medical personnel being used in hospitals. Its concern was that such deployment indicated that the crisis was moving out of control. The reaction to the initial statement was predictable with politicians queuing up to criticise the remarks. More worryingly for the union, social media was alive with threats from members to leave the organisation because of the perceived stance.

In fairness to Patricia McKeown and Unison, it has been at the forefront of raising the issue of under-staffing and underpay in the NHS for many years and Ms McKeown has been a vocal critic of successive health ministers in overseeing this withering of the service.

However, given that experience and knowledge, the initial statement issued on Wednesday night was very ill-judged. We are in the middle of a pandemic, the like of which few if anybody alive today has ever witnessed before. The statistics are alarming with 22 more deaths due to the virus, 832 people testing positive, 67 people in intensive care and 57 on ventilators.

When the NHS has reached the stage where it cannot even perform red-flagged cancer surgery it is clear that it desperately needs help. In those circumstances assistance from any quarter, provided those involved can perform the required tasks, is welcome. Unison must know that and it is clear that many of its members are acutely aware of the problems.

It is somehow appropriate that military personnel are being deployed in hospitals because they are our battlefields at this time, where life and death triages remain a possibility. We should be glad these medical technicians are here to help save lives.

Belfast Telegraph

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