Former UUP Health Minister, Robin Swann MLA, has written to the Secretary of State calling on him to award the agreed pay increase to nurses when he provides clarity on the 22/23 Budget.
The text of the letter is as follows:
Dear Secretary of State,
As you will be aware until the end of last month I was the Minister of Health in Northern Ireland. I shared your deep frustrations that a new Executive was not formed before the October 28th deadline, especially as I witnessed first-hand the real damage that political instability was inflicting on our most important public services.
One of the key driving forces behind the reestablishment of the previous Northern Ireland Executive in early January 2020 was the fact that so many of our health workers were engaging in industrial action.
Whilst it will not surprise you that pay was to the forefront of their campaign, along with the need for a greater focus on safe staffing, the most compelling argument of those taking part in the action was that staff in Northern Ireland were being paid less than their counterparts anywhere else across the United Kingdom.
That is why on my first day in office I made resolving the ongoing industrial dispute my number one priority and I was pleased to announce to the Assembly the successful resolution only days later on January 14th.
Earlier that day I had met with Executive colleagues and it was agreed unanimously that maintaining pay parity with HSC staff in England & Wales would be an Executive policy.
It is therefore incredibly disappointing that despite the AfC and DDRB independent pay review bodies both publishing their recommendations several months ago, once again staff in Northern Ireland are witnessing a divergence in pay.
Very quickly after the publication of the pay review recommendations during the summer I sought to allay some of the immediate concerns by stating I accepted them and hoped to see them delivered. I also had to state however that in the ongoing absence of a functioning Executive and agreed budget position legally I was unable to do so immediately.
Throughout my final months and weeks in post I still inquired whether I could implement the pay review body recommendations but the advice each time was that there first needed to be a wider Executive policy decision on public sector pay. That was the advice from both the officials within my Department as well as the then Minister of Finance.
I appreciate in the midst of the current cost of living crisis and broader soaring inflationary position, that the implementation of the pay review body recommendations alone will likely not avert the prospect of industrial action, however I do believe the delivery of the 2022/23 awards are the very least that our HSC staff deserve. It would be the necessary and absolutely essential first-step if we are to avoid the prospect on ongoing industrial action and disruption to HSC services.
Therefore, I would urge you that when, in the coming weeks, you are providing legislative clarity on the 2022/23 Budget you also please take the opportunity to set the policy on public sector pay to allow our staff to be given as a minimum their pay award for the same year.
It should also be to the forefront of all our thoughts that in the event of planned industrial action in the months ahead Trade Unions will seek to prioritise the maintenance of urgent and emergency care, that the previous action in late 2019 and early 2020 still resulted in the cancellation of many thousands of outpatient and elective appointments. Given the already strained position of elective care in Northern Ireland, I’m sure you will agree that such an outcome would be untenable here.
I do not underestimate for one moment the scale of budgetary pressures across the Executive Departments, and within the Department of Health particularly, however if we are to learn one thing from the many mistakes of the past please let it be that if we don’t appropriately reward and support our staff the health service will only find itself in an increasingly weaker position.
Whether it be now or at some point in the future I am certain that this year’s pay award will be delivered. The choice you appear to have is whether it is delivered now or at a later point but only after more disruption is inflicted and the morale of our already beleaguered HSC staff is hit even further.
Robin Swann MLA