NI Health chief calls on unions to pause strike action over 'fragility' of system

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The Department of Health Permanent Secretary has appealed to trade unions representing health and social care workers in Northern Ireland to pause industrial action and enter into talks.

Members of Northern Ireland's largest health workers union Unison have gone on strike over pay and staffing levels.

Unison represents about 25,000 healthcare workers including nurses, social care staff, support services but not doctors.

On Friday, Richard Pengelly appealed to unions representing the workers to pause their strike action.

He said: "It is clear to everyone that our health service is in an extremely fragile state. Industrial action will certainly exacerbate this situation.

"The latest disturbing waiting time statistics have just been released, hospital Emergency Departments remain under severe pressure and winter-related illnesses are impacting on the population."

Figures released on Thursday show Northern Ireland's health system has been the worst performing of any UK region.

Some 94,000 people in Northern Ireland are waiting more than a year for an appointment with a consultant, compared to 3,364 in England which has a much larger population.

He continued: "I fully understand the deep-seated anger and frustration of staff dealing with these escalating problems day and daily. Indeed, I share those feelings. My appeal to unions is simply this - please don't allow a bad situation to become worse.

"The ultimate resolution to this dispute rests with Ministers. The Department does not have the budget or the authority to meet union demands on pay for this year - I understand how frustrating that position is for the trade unions, but it is the reality we face.

"However, we are ready and willing to enter into a conciliation process with unions to map out an implementation plan for incoming ministers.

"Trade unions have so far said they are unable to accept our conciliation proposals. I am now publicly urging them to think again."

Meanwhile, Belfast Trust said it is "extremely sorry" for the disruption and distress the impact of industrial action will have on our patients and their families.

It said all outpatient appointments, day case procedures and planned surgeries/planned admissions will be postponed on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week as a result of strike action.

The hospitals include, Royal Victoria Hospital, Children's Hospital, Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital, School of Dentistry, Belfast City Hospital, Mater Hospital and Musgrave Park Hospital.

It is expected service will resume as planned on December 6.

Belfast Trust said it will be writing to all affected patients to provide a rescheduled appointment or admission date as soon as possible.

A spokesman said: "Due to the extraordinary circumstances and the large number of people affected, we would ask that people do not ring the Trust to reschedule their appointment. We can assure our patients that we will be in touch with them in due course."

Emergency services are not affected and outpatient appointments provided in community facilities are not affected.

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