THURSDAY saw thousands of healthcare staff take part in a one-day strike action as a result of “the failure to deliver a cost of living pay increase".
Union members from Unite, Unison and Nipsa took to the picket lines across the North with a very clear message: “If our pay doesn’t rise, we will".
Paramedics were among those striking in the latest full day of action taken by unions calling for better pay, improved working conditions and improved mileage allowances.
“These strikes are being taken as an absolute last resort,” said Unite general secretary Sharon Graham.
“Our members are seeing the NHS eroded before their eyes and patients’ lives are being placed at risk due to chronic underfunding.”
“It’s been critical cover for months,” said Maura McKenna, of Unison’s West Belfast Branch Chair.
Standing outside Beech Hall Wellbeing and Treatment Centre on the Andersonstown Road, Maura told us: “Management have done nothing about it. These are very dedicated members of staff, they know what they’re doing and they’re here to protect the NHS.
“Right through from all grades of staff, it’s not just the nursing staff that’s part of the NHS, admin, clerical, catering staff, the porters, the PCCSS, the storemen here. They all need to be paid a proper wage.”
At Ardoyne Ambulance Station, Mandie Tohill, said, “With the cost of living just going through the roof, the money doesn’t match it. So, you’re always at a deficit.”
“I’m going into seven years in the Ambulance Service. Day to day we’re A&E support. We’re back-up for A&E vehicles especially if they’re having long wait at hospitals so we’re next in line.
“A lot of time you’re not even getting your meal break. You can’t plan your after-hours activities, especially when you’ve young families to go to. It’s tough.”
People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll commended health workers as they took to the picket lines today. The West Belfast rep joined striking workers at the Royal Victoria Hospital at midnight as they began strike action.
“Today’s strike is as much about safe staffing as it is about pay,” he said. “Health workers have kept the NHS afloat despite decades of cuts. They have had enough.
“The Tories are waging ideological war on the NHS. They don't care about staff and they certainly don't care about patients who are constantly put at risk by government policy.
"Striking health workers are fighting for real investment in services and staff. Our health service won’t survive if they don’t.”
A spokesperson from the NI Ambulance Service said: "NIAS and trade union representatives have engaged to identify services and roles that will be exempt from strike action to ensure that a response continues to the most clinically urgent patients, thereby balancing the right to strike with patient safety.
"NIAS anticipates that there will be challenges throughout the day and have planned to maintain the safety of those patients whose need is greatest. The impact of the action will be felt most on those patients calling NIAS whose need is less clinically urgent. We anticipate that there will be lengthy delays in responding to these categories of calls.
"To ensure that we maintain the levels of cover required to respond to the most urgent calls, we would ask the public to call us only in life-threatening emergencies such as cardiac arrest, loss of consciousness, breathing difficulties, severe bleeding and others. We would also ask that, having placed a 999 call, the public should resist calling back to check on the arrival time of the ambulance. The ambulance will arrive at the earliest opportunity and calling back repeatedly can block lines into the control centre for other emergencies."