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Health strike: Parties hold meeting to address pay dispute

A last-minute meeting between the five main Stormont parties and the head of the civil service over the pay dispute for health care workers has taken place.

The party leaders also sent a joint letter to the NI secretary which “provides cover” for him to intervene.

About 9,000 nurses are to strike for 12 hours on Wednesday from 08:00 GMT.

The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) said the strikes pose a “major challenge”.

The latest information on strike action and how it might affect patients can be found on the Health and Social Care Board website.

After the meeting broke up, some of the Stormont parties wanted to talk to the secretary of state but the Northern Ireland Office said health remains a devolved matter.

Nurses and other healthcare workers have been taking industrial action for several weeks amid complaints of poor pay and staffing levels.

The letter to Julian Smith signed by the five party leaders said there was “collective support for the restoration of pay parity”.

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“In our view this statement, making clear that any health and finance ministers in any future Northern Ireland Executive formed before 13 January 2020 would restore pay parity, provides cover for you as secretary of state to intervene to ensure that pay parity is restored independently of the ongoing talks to restore the Executive.”

Paramedics are set to take 24-hour strike action.

Nurses and other healthcare workers have been taking industrial action for several weeks amid complaints of poor pay and staffing levels.

A spokesperson for Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) said “major challenges are expected across all health and social care services in Northern Ireland tomorrow”.

The HSCB announced that the South Tyrone Hospital Minor Injury Unit (MIU), Mid Ulster MIU, Bangor MIU and Ards MIU will all be closed on Wednesday.

It also advised that if patients or service users have not been contacted about their Trust then they should attend their appointment/ service as normal.

All emergency departments remain open, but “significant pressure” was expected within the departments.

“The priority will be on the treating emergency and life threatening conditions first. Patients with less urgent conditions may have to wait for lengthy periods,” said the spokesperson.

Analysis: These are exceptional times

By Marie-Louise Connolly, BBC News NI Health Correspondent

There are just under 2,800 unfilled nursing posts within the health service in Northern Ireland.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) estimates that a similar level of unfilled posts exists within nursing homes.

The nursing vacancy rate in NI is within 13%, compared with about 11% in England and about 6% in Scotland.

This means that for every eight nurses who should be working in Northern Ireland, one is missing.

Nurses are demanding better work force planning.

Last year, the local health service spent £52m on agency nurses to fill these gaps in the workforce.

That money, the RCN argues, could be better managed to train and pay health service nurses.

These are exceptional times which require an exceptional intervention.

The RCN says no time is a good time to strike but years of negotiations between various health ministers failed and years of warnings were ignored.

Kevin McAdam from the Unite union said the trade unions were “working hard” to ensure there was necessary staff cover.

“All of the local reps (of the trade unions) have been given authority to ensure that where critical care is required it is delivered,” he added.

“Our reps have been standing up to that plate, working hard with management to ensure that patients do not suffer in this process.”

Anne Speed from Unison said joint meetings were taking place with employers on Tuesday and that it had provided an exemption from striking for staff working in “cancer treatment and children’s homes”.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it was working with management to ensure there is enough staff cover in “critical departments”.

The heads of all of Northern Ireland’s health trusts have stated the current crisis in the service has been “years in the making”.

The latest information on strike action and how it might affect patients can be found on the Health and Social Care Board website.

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BBC News – Health

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