Talks to avert industrial action by Northern Ireland health workers break down

Talks to avert industrial action by Northern Ireland health workers break down

Discussions between employers and health workers in Northern Ireland have broken down without agreement.

Health and social care workers in the region earlier this week served notice of industrial action over staffing numbers and pay disputes.

The first phase will run from November 25 to December 18.

Talks to avert the action ended on Friday without agreement.

Both sides expressed disappointment at the outcome.

In a statement the Department of Health said a formal pay offer was made earlier this week which represents a 2.1% increase to the pay bill.

Richard Pengelly highlighted concerns about the health service being strained this winter (Liam McBurney/PA)
Richard Pengelly highlighted concerns about the health service being strained this winter (Liam McBurney/PA)

The department’s Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said it was the best that could be afforded given what he described as budgetary constraints and amid the limited authority in the absence of a health minister at Stormont.

“The department’s suggested way forward was explained at length in the meeting with trade unions today, and it is regrettable that this has been rejected,” he said.

“Officials remain very willing to discuss and indeed take part in an independently facilitated process which we consider is a much safer and more constructive approach to breaking what has become an impasse.”

He added: “There are widespread concerns that this winter will be particularly challenging for health and social care services here and across these islands.

“We have asked the trade unions to defer industrial action as it will inevitably make a difficult situation worse. It is open to them to ballot their members on our offer.”

The trade unions involved in the talks accused the department of failing to recommence “meaningful talks”.

The first phase of industrial action will run from November 25 to December 18 (Peter Byrne/PA)
The first phase of industrial action will run from November 25 to December 18 (Peter Byrne/PA)

“The Department of Health have simply restated the financial terms on the settlement of the Agenda for Change refresh issues, a position that was rejected by the trade unions last week,” they said in a statement.

“There was nothing new from the department and employers on this issue.

“What has been proposed would see the gap in pay widening between our staff and colleagues in the rest of the UK. This will not only impact now on pay levels but will have a detrimental impact on future pay and pensions.”

They added: “The department have been informed that the trade unions are available for urgent talks on this matter.”

Meanwhile, the Health and Social Care System (HSC) has issued advice to patients over potential effects of next week’s industrial action.

In a statement the HSC said sterile services across major hospitals, some hospital and social care transport, a number of patient support services such as catering and laundry as well as portering services may be affected.

“The type of industrial action will vary from trust to trust and will also take place in different areas, at different times,” the HSC statement continued.

“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.”

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