NI’s frontline health workers back on picket lines

Nurses from Altnagelvin Hospital are among the frontline healthcare staff joining picket lines as industrial action enters a third week.

Thousands of patients have had routine appointments cancelled amid the dispute over pay parity with the rest of the UK and other staffing issues – but waiting times in Northern Ireland had already reached crisis point.

The protests by health workers are continuing after unions rejected the latest offer put on the table by the Department of Health.

Industrial action by healthcare workers is expected to continue into 2020. Credit: UTV

More disruption is expected in the coming weeks, with no sign of staff backing down.

Their message to health chiefs is clear.

“The people are still angry – they haven’t lost any impetus and they’ve got the hunger to stay on,” Ivan Magill, from the union Unison, said.

If this doesn’t work, believe me, they will be out again in the New Year.

Ivan Magill, Unison

Occupational therapist Ruth Watkins said workers had just reached the point where they felt they had to take some kind of action.

“Because it’s just going on and on,” she said.

“Year after year, we’re getting further and further behind England, Scotland and Wales.”

Ruth Watkins was among the occupational therapists joining the pickets. Credit: UTV

One of the many patients affected by the industrial action is Jonathan Nielson, a 42-year-old with epilepsy who had his neurology appointment cancelled last week.

Housebound, he can have up to eight seizures a week and had been waiting for his appointment for 18 months.

“It’s stressful just waiting for the appointment and then to have it cancelled last minute … It’s just like putting your life on hold, waiting all the time,” he told UTV.

Jonathan Nielson waited 18 months for his appointment, only to have it cancelled at the last minute. Credit: UTV

The unions have called for renewed talks with Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith.

In a statement, Owen Reidy from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions said: "Alarm bells should be ringing at the highest level of politics.”

He further warned Mr Smith that pressures are also being felt in schools and in the Civil Service.

That suggests picket lines could become more frequent right across public services in the New Year.