Nurses on strike holding placards outside the Ulster HospitalImage copyright
PA Media

Unions representing healthcare workers in Northern Ireland have had a “positive meeting” with Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith.

Health workers across Northern Ireland are staging industrial action in protest at pay and staffing levels.

Unison’s Patricia McKeown said she expected there “will be movement” following Thursday’s meeting.

A limited number of outpatient appointments will go ahead in hospitals across Belfast on Thursday.

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It follows days of disruption during which 10,000 outpatient appointments and surgeries were cancelled.

‘Heard by the government’

Mr Smith met with members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Unite and Unison on Thursday.

Ms McKeown said healthcare workers in Northern Ireland had “stood up to make your voices heard”.

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Unison’s Patricia McKeown has said she expects there “will be movement” after meeting with Julian Smith

“We believe that your voice is being listened to, it has finally got as far as the UK government.”

She added it was understood meeting demands would required additional money.

“We have made it clear from the outset, we don’t mind where that money comes from,” she said.

‘Money on the table’

Speaking ahead of Thursday’s meeting, Mr Smith said he was looking forward to meeting the unions, adding that the situation in the health service was unacceptable.

“I am extremely sorry this is affecting patients, families and workers,” he said.

“We need to come together now to try to resolve this to make sure the impacts don’t get worse – I will do whatever I can to move things forward.”

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Unison members in the health service say they want better pay and increased staffing levels

The union Unison, which represents more than 6,500 registered nurses and 3,500 health care assistants, has called for “compromise and money on the table”.

Healthcare workers who are members of the Unite trade union are due to join strike action with members of other unions on 18 December.

A devolved matter

Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government since January 2017 when the power-sharing parties – the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin – split after a bitter row.

Mr Smith said he would have more conversations with both the Northern Ireland Civil Service and the unions in the coming days.

“This area of health is a devolved matter so the decisions have to be taken by the NI Civil Service – they are working in difficult circumstances because Stormont’s not running.

“But I am working with them to see if we can find a way through.”

Health and Social Care, the health service operator in Northern Ireland, said patient care and safety was of “paramount concern”.

“We sincerely apologise for the distress and anxiety caused to all those patients, service users and family members who have been or may be affected by the industrial action,” it added.

Full details of the cancellations and advice for patients can be found on the Health and Social Care Board website.

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