Government to urge Stormont parties to commit to health service rescue plan

The Government is to urge Stormont’s leaders to make a series of commitments to tackle Northern Ireland’s spiralling health service crisis.

Secretary of State Julian Smith will ask the main parties to sign up to the steps during a stand-alone “health summit” he is convening as part of the wider talks process to restore powersharing.

The summit comes a day after an unprecedented strike across the region – action that saw thousands of nurses take to the picket lines for the first time ever in the UK.

Around 5,000 medical appointments were cancelled as a result of a strike that paralysed parts of the region’s already foundering health and social care sector.

Healthcare workers in Northern Ireland said they were left with no other option than to stage the walkout after years of under-staffing and sliding pay rates compared to England and Wales.

Ulster powersharing
The UK and Irish governments convened a roundtable meeting with the five parties on Wednesday (Liam McBurney/PA)

At the summit on Thursday morning, Mr Smith will urge the parties to:

– Commit to paying health workers the same as counterparts in the rest of the UK

– Agree a three-year pay deal

– Commit to safer staffing levels

– Deliver 1,000 new nursing and midwifery undergraduate places over three years

– Develop an action plan to tackle spiralling waiting times

The health service crisis has emerged as the key political issue dominating the early stages of the new initiative to restore powersharing.

Some of the local parties have accused the Secretary of State of using the crisis as a stick to beat them into striking a deal to resurrect the institutions.

They claim he could intervene and act on the pay issue in the ongoing absence of powersharing.

Mr Smith has insisted he has no powers to make decisions on the region’s health service and has made clear to the parties that it is their responsibility to fix the problems.

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