Northern Ireland

Health strikes: NI unions thank public as industrial action is suspended

Strike Image copyright Pacemaker

Health workers' unions have praised the public and patients for their patience and support during strike action.

Northern Ireland health unions suspended strike action on Thursday following talks with the Department of Health.

Unison, Unite and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) staged industrial action in protest over pay and staffing.

RCN members were due to strike again on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of next week.

Anne Speed, Unison's head of bargaining, said members made "many sacrifices" during the industrial action and they "really appreciated" the public's understanding.

The health minister, Robin Swann, said the news would "be welcomed by many, not least by patients and of course staff who took industrial action with a very heavy heart".

On Tuesday, unions had a "positive" meeting the health minister, who offered £30m to restore pay parity. Further talks with the department continued into Wednesday night.

NIPSA has said it is not happy with the deal and the BBC understands that it will not be calling off its industrial action.

A source said that the union was deeply concerned about how the conduct of the negotiations and the amount of money that has been promised in the pay deal.

Image caption Ms Speed said the union will now ballot its members on the agreement

Ms Speed said Unison will ballot its members with a recommendation to accept the agreement.

She said that while the deal "is not perfect - there's always room for improvement - this is a big step forward".

Ms Speed added that as well as there now being pay parity with England, there would be an additional £60m for staffing and an estimated £10m in the pot.

She said there would be an additional 900 trainee nursing places and, while it will "take time" there will be a reduction on the reliance on agency staff.

"We need to put that money into the salaries of the nursing workforce."

Image caption Ms Cullen said it has been a "long and difficult road" for nurses

Pat Cullen, Director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, said the strikes have "been a long and difficult road for nurses in Northern Ireland".

"Following the unprecedented decision to take strike action, our members finally have something concrete to consider in relation to both the restoration of pay parity and safe staffing," she said.

Talks between senior union officials and the Department of Health lasted most of Wednesday.

Mr Swann welcomed the suspension of strike action and said it had been "a very difficult time".

"I want to again pay a heartfelt tribute to our nurses and other health workers and the great work they do," he added.

"Only yesterday, we saw figures showing that the number of compliments in our health service far outnumbers the number of complaints.

'A lot of work to be done'

"This illustrates the great health care that is provided day and daily across Northern Ireland, despite all the serious problems facing the system. I recognise, of course, that there is still a lot of work to be done."

Previously, Mr Swann gave a commitment to meet the unions' demands for pay parity after £30m of additional funding was identified from future funds.

An agreement around how the department would implement the necessary processes to increase the number of staff working across the health and social care service is yet to be agreed.

As a result of the suspension, the five health trusts will not have to proceed with cancelling appointments and procedures next week.

Another positive move is that workers will not lose further pay.

More on this story