Northern Ireland

Stormont deal: Health talks end on 'positive and upbeat' note

Strike Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Unions have not indicated that the strike action will be called off

Talks between the Department of Health and unions ended in a positive and upbeat mood, the BBC understands.

However, if unions do not move quickly to call off further strikes next week, health trusts will have to put into place plans to cancel appointments.

Health workers in NI have been staging industrial action in protest against pay and staffing.

On Tuesday, unions had a "positive" meeting the health minister, who offered £30m to restore pay parity.

Talks with the Department of Health continued into Wednesday night.

They were said to have ended on an "upbeat" note, however, Pat Cullen of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it was "deeply concerning" that after meeting the new Health Minister, Robin Swann, she spoke to departmental officials who said that there "may be difficulties with the minister committing to the issues of safe staffing".

The unions are expected to see their individual executives on Thursday.

Nurses are due to strike again on three days next week - Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Ms Cullen said she could not suspend planned strike action for next week unless there is "a formal commitment on safe staffing that will deliver for patients and nurses".

"At this point in time, I do not have enough detail and reassurance that I could put to the Northern Ireland board and propose that we suspend our strike action," she said.

The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA) union said industrial action "will remain in place until this dispute is resolved to the satisfaction of members".

Earlier On Wednesday, Mr Swann said he thought reassurances "had gone far enough" but he would work with health unions and added that there were "no guarantees about the financial package that is coming".

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Media captionHealth strike: Robin Swann confirms pay package for nurses and health workers

But he stressed his commitment to health staff who he praised for the care they showed his son, who was born with a heart defect.

"I owe so much to our health service, and when the health portfolio came up, I couldn't pass it by personally because of what we, as a family, owe to our NHS," he said.

Nurses and healthcare workers began industrial action over staffing levels and pay, which does not rise in line with healthcare workers in Scotland, England and Wales.

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