NI health service in ‘worse state than ever’ ahead of nurses’ strike this winter

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The looming nurses' strike this winter will make the long waiting lists in Northern Ireland longer and comes at a time when the health service in Northern Ireland is "worse than it has ever been", a leading doctor has warned.

Nurses are set to take to picket lines in Northern Ireland - and across the UK - this winter after members of the Royal College of Nursing voted in favour of strike action over pay and conditions.

The head of the union representing doctors in Northern Ireland, meanwhile, has warned that the strike is set to go ahead with a health service already "logjammed from front to back".

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Dr Tom Black, head of the British Medical Association's (BMA) Northern Ireland Committee, told the News Letter that despite the serious situation facing medics this winter that his organisation is backing the nurses' industrial action.

"we have taken the view in the BMA that nurses have suffered a more than 20% reduction in pay over the last decade or so in real terms over the last decade or so, and that when nurses stand up for themselves and their pay they are also standing up for the health service," Dr Black said.

"If we don't pay nurses well, we won't have nurses to look after us. To some extent, they are saying to the public and to government 'we are standing up for the health service, you need to look after the service and fund it properly'."

On the state of the health service at the outset of the difficult winter period, Dr Black said: "The overall position going into winter is the worst that it has ever been, I think we are all aware of that. It is difficult to get a GP appointment, it is difficult to get into ED, very difficult to get admitted into a ward and get out of the ward with a community care package.

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The whole system is logjammed from front to back and that's because we don't have enough nurses, we don't have enough doctors, and our waiting lists are the worst in the United Kingdom."

File photo dated 27/01/21 of nurses working. Issue date: Thursday May 12, 2022.File photo dated 27/01/21 of nurses working. Issue date: Thursday May 12, 2022.
File photo dated 27/01/21 of nurses working. Issue date: Thursday May 12, 2022.

He continued: “What we see ahead of us is a combination of increasing covid infections, an increase in influenza A which seems to be quite severe this year, and we're also seeing an awful lot of respiratory syncytial virus [RSV] infections in younger children.”

On the likely impact of the nurses' strike, he said: We would expect that any industrial action from the nurses would be in hospitals.

“We don't expect it to take place in general practice, because the industrial action that was voted on didn't refer to general practice.

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“We would also expect that nurses will continue to staff emergency services, so there should be some reassurance there for the public that if they have a heart attack, stroke or road traffic accident and have to attend ED [Emergency Department] that nurses will be there to look after them as usual.

“I think the effect it will have will be around the elective services - in other words, booked operations and services such as outpatients.”