SDLP Health Spokesperson Mark H Durkan has joined Western Health Staff on the picket lines supporting their fight for pay parity this week.
He has criticised the Department’s response to workers’ industrial action adding that it should never have escalated to this point for those in power to take heed.
The Foyle MLA commented: “Staff on the picket lines are angry, they are frustrated by the complete absence of representation- and rightly so.
“Challenging times warrant the need for difficult decisions to be made- our frontline health staff have felt the full force of the lack of an Executive here and the lack of a voice in Westminster. They see it day to day with the ever-increasing waiting lists, the inability to deliver under diminishing resources and their daily struggle to bridge the gaps within the system.
“A&E departments across all five health trusts are fit to burst with many issuing warnings over the weekend that only serious cases would be prioritised. This is not an image of a health system in peace times.
“That said, the Department’s Pecksniffian position citing ‘patient safety’ is at this point egregious considering that health staff here have been shouting this from the rooftops for the last three years. However, it would be unfair to lay blame solely at the door of the Department. This is down to the lack of action from prior health ministers and civil servants who have failed to take seriously numerous warnings regarding the nurses’ pay crisis, deteriorating working conditions and workforce issues.”
“The SDLP voted against pay restraint and the retention of the pay gap while in Stormont; at the time I also proposed that savings made through the voluntary exit scheme be used to address other agenda for pay anomalies. The DUP/ Sinn Fein Executive chose not to implement such common sense proposals but instead chose to vote against pay parity.
“For the SDLP, addressing nurses’ pay and the crisis within health will take priority in a Programme for Government in a restored Executive. We have proposed a framework to deal with this crisis head on, which features heavily in the party manifesto- something which is markedly absent in others. We need a fit for purpose strategy focusing on staff retention and recruitment- that relies on pay parity for our health staff and protecting working conditions, it relies on a medical school at Magee and addressing chronic underfunding within health. We need an Executive making decisions on this crucial matter- for the benefit not the detriment of our health service, our health staff, and our patients.
“It is clear that people want a party who actually shows up to work for them, one with a plan to address the pay gap and a proven track record of supporting our heroic health staff- not one who merely piggybacks on the swathe of public opinion.”