Northern Ireland health executives’ call for action on health worker pay welcomed by SoR 

The heads of the six trusts in Northern Ireland have written a letter to the Secretary of State in hopes of ending the pay dispute 

Published: 18 October 2023 Northern Ireland

A call from Northern Ireland's health executives for urgent action on health worker pay has been welcomed by the Society of Radiographers. 

On Tuesday, 17 October, the heads of six Northern Ireland health and social care trusts highlighted the need for “urgent action” on pay awards for staff, following strike action last month. 

The letter, signed by the chief executives of Northern Ireland’s six trusts and addressed to Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris, acknowledges the challenges in funding for Northern Ireland, but calls for action to find a solution to the ongoing pay disputes. 

Workforce crisis

In response, SoR has welcomed the letter and echoed the concerns voiced by the chief executives. 

Cora Regan, SoR’s national officer for Northern Ireland, said: “The letter recognises the position of their 60,000 staff who work in HSCNI, including our members, and the workforce crisis that they find themselves in. We are all aware of the potentially very difficult winter ahead of us all if there is no resolution to the ongoing industrial dispute. 

“The chief executives reiterate the call from the trade union Leads in NI that the current situation of staff in NI being the lowest paid in the UK is unsustainable and timely remedial intervention must not hinge on the restoration of the Stormont assembly. Mr Heaton Harris must act quickly to prevent escalation of industrial action and the potential impact of such action on services.”

The letter, signed by Michael Bloomfieldof the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, Roisin Coulterof the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, Neil Guckian of the Western Health and Social Care Trust, Cathy Jack of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Maria Kaneof the Southern Health and Social Care Trust and Jennifer Welshof the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, welcomes the recent talks between the government and trade unions, but raises concerns that the dispute has not yet been settled. 

De facto pay freeze 

Citing concern for their workforce, particularly following the Covid pandemic and the growing pressures on health services, the chief executives said it is “unsustainable and unfair that [health workers] should be left with a de facto pay freeze during a cost of living crisis.”

The letter continues: “Please be assured that we are very mindful of the many pressures on public funding both in Northern Ireland and across the UK. It is nevertheless clear that a political intervention on additional funding is required before the pay issue can be resolved.

“As things stand, further industrial action is planned. This will inevitably impact heavily on an already fragile health and care system, in what is invariably the most challenging time of year. We have very deep concerns about impacts on patients and other service users.” 

In September, thousands of health workers in Northern Ireland held 48-hour strike actionas part of the pay dispute.

The dispute is centred around the fact that Northern Ireland’s health and social care staff remain the lowest paid in the UK, and have not yet been given a pay increase for 2023-24, and were awarded a below-inflation increase in 2022-23. 

Northern Ireland’s health workers were also involved in a pay dispute in 2019, which was resolved when the government re-established pay parity with workers in England. 

Reducing waiting lists 

The chief executive’s letter said: “We are acutely aware that there is a heavy responsibility on us as chief executives to drive forward efficiency and transformation measures and make the best possible use of available resources. Reducing our unacceptably long waiting lists will require not just investment but a sustained focus on productivity. Whilst we are committed to making that happen, progress becomes immeasurably more difficult with a demoralised and depleted workforce and a sustained period of industrial action.”

The letter closes by urging Mr Heaton-Harris to do everything within his power to resolve the pay dispute.