Ambulance staff and nurses among 25,000 to walk out
More than 25,000 healthcare staff in Northern Ireland have begun a one-day strike as part of a pay dispute. The move from Unite, Unison and Nipsa members, will involve some nurses, ambulance and hospital support staff. Workers were told they would get a 2022-23 pay award of £1,400, but unions said this would not settle the dispute as it was lower than inflation.
Ambulance staff includes paramedics, call handlers and support workers. Under trade union law, emergency cover will still be provided and staff can leave the picket lines to attend. Trusts have been in contact with patients who will be affected and further details are available on trusts’ websites.
Nipsa spokesperson Patrick Mulholland told BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme staff can no longer continue working under current conditions. Anne Speed, from Unison, said that no ambulance or NHS worker wanted to be taking action but there had been no movement from the government on pay. The NHS is in a terrible state and nowhere is worse than in Northern Ireland,” she said.
She added that the dispute was about more than pay. With too few health workers, the HSC can no longer deliver safe nor maintain quality patient care,” she said.
“Ambulance workers want to be able to respond promptly when people call 999 but they can’t,” she added, pointing to queues of emergency vehicles outside emergency departments and patients on trolleys.
She said Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris should be in Northern Ireland “talking about the crisis in our health service”. Nipsa, which has more than 10,000 members, some of whom are nurses, said wages had been “progressively eroded through below inflation pay-rises and pay freezes”.
“Trust workers have been forced to resort to food banks and take on additional shifts/second jobs,” the union said in a statement.
The statement added that members were not only taking action over pay but in protest at staffing levels and travel reimbursement. Nipsa said that the NHS mileage cap, the number of miles that can be reimbursed for visits to service users, had been set for the rest of the UK and was not “fit for purpose in Northern Ireland”.
Nipsa also hit out at unfilled posts. In some front-line social work teams 42% of posts are unfilled, leaving staff with “unsustainable caseloads”.
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