Health Chiefs Call For Talks To Avoid Strike

Health officials have issued a direct appeal to trade unions for talks to avert strike action planned for later this week.

Northern Ireland's top health official said dialogue rather than industrial action represents the best way forward on staffing issues.

Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly's plea comes as nurses from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) prepare to stage their second day of strike action over staffing levels and pay.

The situation deepened further this week as local midwives began voting on whether to take part in industrial action as they fight to achieve pay parity with the rest of the UK.

Mr Pengelly said recent demands issued by the RCN for safe staffing can provide the basis for serious engagement. Discussions had previously concentrated on pay.

He commented: "We have repeatedly made clear that our door remained open for discussions – with the specific aim of drawing up a detailed, costed implementation plan on staffing.
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"We see no good reason why such dialogue cannot begin immediately. Deferring strike action would be in the best interests of patients and patient safety and would provide the necessary space for fresh dialogue.

"Our hospitals are already under severe pressure at present, even before the planned industrial action takes place this week."

Mr Pengelly reiterated the Department's position on pay parity as a matter for consideration by a Minister.

"That is a position that cannot be changed by industrial action," he continued.

"In terms of political resolution, all main political parties have already publicly supported the calls for parity with England, and talks are ongoing about restoration of the devolved institutions. It is only that process that can provide the mechanism for a sustainable solution on pay.

"In that context, we would encourage unions to reflect on what possible objective could be served by further industrial action at this time."


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