HEALTH staff in Unison across the north of Ireland – including nurses, paramedics, cleaners, domestics and porters – are urging the UK government to give an early, significant pay rise of at least £2,000 to every NHS worker.
Staff in Unison branches, based in NHS hospitals, clinics and ambulance stations, will be using social media and taking part in socially distanced events to press home the message to Northern Ireland MPs that health workers deserve much more than applause for their efforts during the pandemic.
Health workers know the public backs an early NHS pay rise, but now want to see the government show its appreciation for staff by bringing forward the pay rise due in April.
Unison’s pay claim – delivered to Downing Street last month – would see every NHS employee receive an increase of at least £2,000 by the end of the year.
This early wage increase – equivalent to around £1 an hour extra for all staff – could give ailing local economies a much-needed boost as workers spend the extra money in their pockets on the high street, says Unison.
With the current surge rates of infection, and huge pressures on struggling and weary staff, Unison believes now is the perfect time for the UK government to show the high regard in which they say they hold NHS staff.
Unison Northern Ireland Regional Organisers Nuala Conlon and Marianne Buick said: ‘Infection rates are rising in care homes and out in the wider community, and hospital admissions continue to stretch resources.
‘That’s why now would be the perfect time for the UK Prime Minister and Chancellor to show they can do more than clap for NHS staff, and demonstrate their appreciation in a much more practical way.
‘Investing in the NHS and its incredible staff is a must for the UK government. It would help the health service tackle the mounting staff shortages that were already causing huge problems even before the virus hit.
‘An early pay rise would also be the best way of saying a heartfelt thank you to every single member of the whole NHS team.”
- On 5th November, the NI Executive met to consider the continuation of restrictions it has put in place to stop the spread of Covid-19 amidst media reports that they will be advised by health officials to further extend restrictions.
Commenting in advance of that meeting, Unison Regional Secretary Patricia McKeown said: ‘Today the Executive will be considering difficult issues on the restrictions placed on society to combat the spread of Covid-19.
‘It appears that the Executive will be advised to continue restrictions for a further two weeks. We do not underestimate how difficult these decisions are for the Executive, nor do we dismiss the impact that these restrictions are having on the economy.
‘But the first priority of our elected representatives must be to protect the public. We should not forget that we had to enter this current period of restrictions because the spread of the virus had grown beyond our control and was threatening to overwhelm our health service.
‘Unison is the single largest union representing workers right across our health and social care system. We know from them that our health service is under pressure like never before.
‘We are facing into a perfect storm with a system that was already missing thousands of workers now seeing increasing numbers of patients requiring treatment for Covid-19, combined with winter pressures and large numbers of workers having to self-isolate.
‘Over the last several weeks capacity across our hospitals has grown increasingly stretched, with more and more admissions to ICU inevitably diminishing the ability of the system to provide all the other forms of treatment the public needs.
‘The number of outbreaks across our care homes has risen dramatically, with our members struggling to provide care for our elderly and vulnerable citizens.
‘The Executive collectively needs to strengthen and improve our testing and tracing system, but this must be combined with proper financial supports for those asked to self-isolate to stop the spread of the virus.’
- The RCN in Northern Ireland has launched a significant project to capture the stories and lived experiences of nurses and nursing assistants as they face the challenge of Covid-19.
Pat Cullen, Director of the RCN in Northern Ireland said: ‘Just a few weeks after taking strike action, nurses and nursing assistants are having to deal with a range of unprecedented issues whilst working in some very unfamiliar circumstances and environments.
‘None of this is easy, and for many their personal and professional worlds have been turned upside down.
‘It is for these reasons that we believe it is very important to document this experience now. It is a priority for the RCN in Northern Ireland to support you through these challenging times. Collecting this data will enable us to do this in a meaningful way as well as be an important historical record that can be used to influence decision-making and policy.
‘We know that these are anxious and pressurised times, but please take your time to tell your story. It doesn’t have to be exciting or out of the ordinary – but it is important that we hear your experiences, both professionally and personally.’
- After a lifetime keeping patients alive against all the odds, a veteran doctor says it is now Northern Ireland’s health service that needs critical care.
Consultant anaesthetist, the aptly named Dr Bob Darling, has spent decades breathing life into patients during their most vulnerable moments.
For thousands he has been the last face they’ve seen as he put them under anaesthetic and the first face they’ve seen when he has brought them round.
His role, he says, is important, a privilege and a passion, and he admits he just can’t turn off his mobile phone even when he’s off duty just in case he’s needed in surgery.
Nurses at the Ulster Hospital, Dundonald, are under intense pressure like colleagues all over the country. But as Covid strikes at the very heart of Northern Ireland, it’s not his own role that Dr Darling says is in need of support and boosting – it is that of our nurses.
Dr Darling, who works primarily from the Ulster Hospital, Dundonald, said: ‘It’s simple and very worrying, we don’t have enough nurses. All NHS staff play an important role but their numbers just don’t add up and in the midst of a crisis the pressure is on more than ever.
‘Our NHS would simply not run without our nurses and many of them are now facing a situation where they can’t actually work or be in the work place for lengthy periods of time.
‘The majority of them are women and for many, they have the dual role of professional nurse and people manager in work and the same at home. For many, if their children are off school for any reason, they too need to be off work.
‘The pressure is on. And with the Covid pressure building, our nurses are in short supply for many reasons.
‘This is a crisis, it’s a crisis at the heart of the health service. They’re working round the clock, they rarely get breaks and they do a vitally important job. Without our nurses what do we have? We do not have an NHS.’