A senior union official has admitted the forthcoming nursing strike will have an impact on patients and Northern Ireland’s already lengthy waiting lists.
Both the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Unison are set to strike over pay and staffing levels in the coming weeks.
Unison, who represent thousands of nurses, care staff and other health workers, are to meet today to decide on a “comprehensive industrial action plan”, while the RCN has already announced strike dates – beginning on December 18.
Anne Speed, a top-ranking Unison official, admitted in a radio interview yesterday morning that patients are likely to be affected.
Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, she said: “There will never be a strike in the health service which won’t have an impact on patients.”
She added: “If we think that we can have a dispute in the health service and have no impact on those users of the service, that’s cloud cuckoo land.
“And, if the department (of health) expect that we’re going to do that, then there’s another shock coming for them.”
Ms Speed did, however, stress her union’s commitment to patient safety and ruled out a blanket strike that would cripple the entire health service.
“The first thing we will do is take consideration of patient safety and we will act in a very responsible manner,” she said.
She was asked repeatedly by interviewer Stephen Nolan about patient safety.
“The responsibility for that lies with the department because we have been at the table since February,” she said.
“It’s not our intention to have any patient suffer and the kind of industrial action that will be implemented will be designed to minimise the impact on the patient.”
She continued: “There will never be a strike in the health service which won’t have an impact on patients.
“It will add, maybe, to the delays that are already there – not created by us but substantive delays and growing waiting lists.
“But if you are suggesting in any way that we would put any patient in need of critical care in danger, no.”
The RCN, meanwhile, is due to begin industrial action short of a strike on December 3, followed by further such action on December 10 and 11. The first strike will happen exactly one week before Christmas on December 18, with further ‘targeted’ strike action also planned in January, February and March.
RCN Northern Ireland director Pat Cullen also appeared to admit there would be an impact on services in a statement announcing the timing of the industrial action.
“While no nurse wants to take this action, unfortunately we have been left with no choice and we are now carrying out the instructions that our members have clearly voted for,” she said.
“We will have further details on the impact this will have upon services closer to the time.”
The Department of Health, meanwhile, has said its ability to meet pay demands is “inevitably constrained”. A spokesperson said contingency plans for the industrial action are still being finalised.