Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Health workers set to begin industrial action

Health and Social Care services across the district are expected to be impacted by the first phase of industrial action by health workers, which begins today (Monday).  The planned industrial action, short of strike, is scheduled to continue until mid-December and will affect almost all areas of health care, including nursing and ambulance staff.

Warning patients of potential disruption to services, the Southern Trust said in a statement: “We will do everything we can to mitigate disruption, however it is inevitable that some services will be impacted. We apologise in advance to anyone affected.

“We do not anticipate that any patient appointments will be cancelled [this] week, however if the industrial action continues, Trust staff will make direct contact with patients and clients whose service or appointment may be impacted.”

“If you do not hear from us it means that your service or appointment is going ahead as planned.”

A spokesperson for the Health and Social Care System (HSC) also apologized in advance for potential disruption, adding that the areas most likely to be affected will be sterile services across major hospitals, some hospital and social care transport, portering and some patient support services, such as catering and laundry.

“The type of industrial action will vary from Trust to Trust and will also take place in different areas, at different times,” the spokesperson said.

 “We apologise to all those patients and family members who may be affected.  Trusts are working hard, where possible, to contact any patients and service users who may be impacted by any disruption to services or cancellations.  All HSC organisations will continue to work closely together to mitigate the effects of any disruption.  Information updates on patient services will be posted on Trust websites and via social media over the next week.”

Disputes over pay and staffing levels have prompted the industrial action and Unison, which represents the majority of healthcare workers, said the action is “working to rule” to include refusing to have breaks interrupted; working strictly to health and safety protocols; withdrawal from all Union/Management/Department of Health engagement except regional meetings on dispute resolution; and refusing to cover the work of others taking action.

UNISON Regional Secretary, Patricia McKeown said none of the workers involved have taken the decision lightly. 

“They are determined to fight for justice on both pay and staffing levels. They are determined to break the cycle of hundreds of millions of pounds haemorrhaging out of the health budget and into the hands of private agencies. They are determined to see our NHS workforce stabilised and allowed to get on with the serious business of delivering health and social care to the people of Northern Ireland,” she said.

“We know that the public is supportive of our campaign for pay justice. We now challenge those in charge – the Department of Health, the Health Trust Boards and the Executive teams to match the courage and determination of the workforce to save the health service from further crisis. The workers are standing up for justice. It is time they did so too.”