Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Nurses and ambulance staff protest at Daisy Hill

Thousands of health and social care staff braved the weather of torrential rain and strong winds on Wednesday in a day of action to demonstrate at health care facilities across the north in a 12-hour strike over pay and staffing.

Locally, nurses and ambulance crews were among those protesting at Daisy Hill hospital, while other participants marched through the city, at one stage the demonstration stretching the length of Monaghan Street.

It is the first time nurses from the Royal College of Nursing have gone on strike in the union’s 103-year history, while members of NIPSA, Unison and Unite workers’ unions also were involved in the strike action.

The Branch Secretary of Newry and Mourne Unison, Catherine Farrell, was among the protesters at Daisy Hill.  She said nurses are calling for safe staffing levels for their patients and pointing out that NI nurses are the worst paid of the four UK countries.

“We’re looking for the Secretary of State [Julian Smith] to give us our pay parity, all the [political] parties have said we should get it.  He should be delivering that today to us,” she said.

The striking nurses have huge support from the public with many people joining in the protests to show solidarity.  Alongside the demonstrations at Daisy Hill hospital and other healthcare facilities in the district, protesters staged a march through Newry city centre.  Demonstrators waving flags and banners walked the white line from the hospital along Monaghan Street while people cheered and shouted words of encouragement as motorists sounded their horn in support.

Speaking after the unprecedented strike action, SDLP MLA Justin McNulty reiterated his strong support for the workers.  He said it is “unacceptable” that health workers here are being denied pay justice and revealed his party has written to the Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly and has raised this issue with Secretary of State, Julian Smith.

Mr McNulty said: “We must demand better for a workforce who have dedicated their lives to the care of others rather than continue a system which forfeits their physical and mental well-being.

 “This historic strike action proves we are living through arguably the worst crisis our health service has ever faced. Our nurses and healthcare workers deserve better. The SDLP wholeheartedly supports them in their difficult but necessary action.”

The Health and Social Care (HSC) Board said 4,749 hospital appointments were cancelled on Wednesday as a result of the strike action and that there were “no issues” with patient safety.