Northern Ireland

Stormont stalemate: Medical leaders call for end to deadlock

Health workers staged a protest at Stormont on Monday
Image caption Health workers staged a protest at Stormont on Monday

Medical leaders in Northern Ireland have urged political parties to "put patients first" and restore local government.

The British Medical Association (BMA) and seven royal colleges issued a joint statement addressing the healthcare crisis.

Speaking on behalf of doctors, nurses and surgeons it called for political leadership to end the current gridlock.

It said patients need to be put "back at the heart" of the healthcare system.

Members of Unison - Northern Ireland's largest health workers' union - have been engaged in ongoing industrial action over pay and staffing levels.

On Monday, some workers staged a protest at Stormont as a fresh round of political talks got under way to try to revive devolution.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been inactive since January 2017, when its two biggest parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, split in a bitter row.

Several rounds of talks to restore the executive have ended in failure, with the two parties unable to resolve differences over issues such as the Irish language or how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.

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Image caption A joint statement was issued addressing the current healthcare crisis

More industrial action is due to take place this week, with some routine surgeries not going ahead on Monday and Tuesday.

Significant disruption is expected across all trusts on Wednesday, including all community services and hospital services such as surgery, day case procedures and outpatient appointments.

Paramedics are due to join strike action for 24 hours on Wednesday, on the same day that nurses in Northern Ireland take part in full strike action for the first time ever.

The Royal College of Nursing is pressing for pay parity with colleagues in the rest of the UK and for improved staffing levels.

Image caption Workers protested as the parties talked to NI Secretary Julian Smith

The latest joint statement from the BMA and royal colleges said problems in the health care system have "been building for many years" and the situation "has not changed" quickly enough.

"To reform our health service we need political leadership and sustainable long-term planning with decisions being made by locally elected politicians operating from Stormont," it said.

"Events over recent weeks have highlighted just how precarious the situation is across our health system.

"Political inactivity over the last three years has contributed to this crisis.

The statement added that as organisations representing the medical and nursing community they see "the reality of this fractured system every day and watch patients suffer".

Kevin McAdam of Unite called on all parties to commit to restoring pay parity as part of the negotiations. 

He said: "Today's multi-party talks offer some hope for a return to a functioning or accountable devolved administration.

"In advance of the recent elections, all local political parties committed themselves to a position to restore pay parity for NHS workers in Northern Ireland.

"As such, we believe that a key plank of today's talks should include a cross-party commitment to such payments as will allow the planned twenty-four hour strike by all four health unions, Unite, Unison, NIPSA and the RCN to be halted."

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