The Society of Radiographers has welcomed the return of the Northern Ireland Assembly, two years after the devolved government collapsed.
On Saturday (3 February), the devolved government in NI reconvened as Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin was appointed as First Minister, bringing an end to the political deadlock.
The Stormont assembly collapsed in February 2022, after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) walked out in protest over Brexit trading agreements.
Since the collapse of the devolved government, public sector worker wages had been frozen, which resulted in a mass ‘Generalised Day of Action’ walkout in January, which included members of the SoR.
Reconvening of Stormont followed the UK government introducing legislation to affirm Northern Ireland’s place in the Union, and to guarantee unfettered access for Northern Ireland goods to the whole of the UK’s internal market, placating the DUP in the process.
The return of the assembly also means the release of a £3.3 billion package, which includes a pay rise for public sector workers.
For radiographers and other public sector workers in the region who have waited more than a year for delayed pay deals, the news will come as a welcome relief.
Cora Regan, Northern Ireland national officer for the Society of Radiographers, said: “The Society of Radiographers welcomes the return of the Northern Ireland assembly to Stormont today. We are relieved that this will mean that the UK Treasury releases funding to increase public-sector pay in Northern Ireland. Implementing a fair deal for all public-sector workers must be a priority for the new assembly.
“However, this year’s pay is not a long-term measure. Radiography in Northern Ireland is a workforce in crisis, and this crisis needs to be addressed urgently and fully. Levels of pay that have fallen behind other parts of the UK and the Republic of Ireland mean that too few radiographers are being recruited – and many are leaving to work elsewhere.”
In January, SoR members went on strike to highlight the fact that radiographers in Northern Ireland are paid less than those in all other parts of the UK – including in England, where members have also been striking for salary increases.
Radiographer joined public sector workers in Belfast and across the country for a march through the streets, followed by speeches and protest in front of Belfast City Hall, calling for the Northern Ireland secretary of state, Chris Heaton-Harris, to release funding for radiographers and other public sector pay rises.
In Scotland, radiographers are now paid 12 per cent more than in Northern Ireland.
Radiography professionals support nine out of 10 patients in Health and Social Care Northern Ireland. More than 188,850 people in Northern Ireland – nearly 10 per cent of the population – are now waiting for a diagnostic test. This wait means that treatment such as radiotherapy is delayed and cases become more complex – and, for some patients, even a two-week delay can mean the difference between life and death.
Mrs Regan added: “The pressure to increase working hours, coupled with low pay, means that many radiography professionals are leaving Northern Ireland – or the profession itself – and they are not being replaced in adequate numbers.
“However, we now hope we will have a functioning assembly that will stabilise our health and social-care services and deliver a fair pay offer that enables recruitment and retention of our vital staff. The Society of Radiographers looks forward to working with incoming ministers to address the current issues and to establish a programme for government that delivers for our members – and for their patients.
“Our members deserve better. Our patients deserve better.”
The package of measures announced earlier this month, entitled “Safeguarding the Union”, aim to safeguard trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Chris Heaton-Harris, Northern Ireland secretary, said: “I am delighted that the Democratic Unionist Party have taken this next step to work with the other Northern Ireland Parties to recall the Assembly.
“The government made commitments to introduce legislation in our Command Paper and we have now followed through on those commitments.
“I look forward to working with the new First Minister, deputy First Minister, and all the Ministers in a returned Northern Ireland Executive, alongside Northern Ireland Assembly members, to improve the lives of people living here.”
(Image: Radiographers on strike in Northern Ireland, by William Phillips)