A nurses’ union has hit out over a warning from Trust chiefs about patient safety ahead of their industrial action on Tuesday.
Hospital workers are into a second week of their campaign for pay alignment with colleagues in the rest of the UK as well as better staffing levels.
On Tuesday, it was the turn of nurses - who did not strike but as a protest avoided carrying out tasks not directly related to patient care.
A major strike is planned for two weeks' time when they will join health workers from all the main trade unions.
Demonstrations were held at hospitals during lunch breaks, where nurses expressed their anger about the timing of the statement by the Trusts.
Rita Devlin from the Royal College of Nursing said: “I would like to know why they picked today of all days to focus on patient safety, when any nurse here could tell you that patient safety keeps them awake at night, keeps them from knowing that they’re doing the best that they can for their patients and every single day they struggle with patient safety, so it is I think for our members, a bit of a kick in the teeth for those statements to be put out on this day.”
Nurses protesting told UTV the health service has been “too reliant on the goodwill of nurses for too long” - adding “goodwill isn’t going to keep people safe anymore”.
They also argued that appointments this week were cancelled by the Belfast Trust unnecessarily.
Patricia Cowan, a nurse who works in outpatients explained: “We have been open, we were in yesterday morning - two thirds of our patients turned up, yesterday afternoon only one in 12 turned up and they were new patients which were cancelled by the Trust, not by ourselves, by the Trust.
“We were there to do our work and we actually carried out diagnostic cancer duties yesterday so there’s a little misconception about what is actually happening.”
The Department of Health continues to offer an independent conciliation process to resolve the dispute and has repeated that it "simply doesn't have the money or authority to resolve the impasse".
On Tuesday, Northern Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer urged all parties to compromise.
“Patients who need health and social care must come first,” he told UTV.
“I understand the pressures that nurses and other staff right across health are experiencing, I fully respect their rights and their trade union colleagues to represent the very real grievances, but I would just ask all parties to step back, to re-engage and seek to deescalate the situation otherwise I fear there will be very significant consequences for patient care, and potentially for the safety of the care that we provide.
“We’re at a time where we have a number of unions taking either industrial action, or proposed strike action, that’s likely to escalate in coming weeks as we move into an increasingly challenging winter period.”