Nurses must be represented “fully” and “equally” in discussions on rebuilding health and care services in Northern Ireland after the coronavirus pandemic, a nursing union leader has warned.
Pat Cullen, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland, has stressed the importance of involving frontline staff in the process of creating the new ‘business-as-usual’ for the country.
“Nurses must be represented fully, and on an equal footing with other professions, at any decision-making table”
She spoke out after health minister Robin Swann published a new “strategic framework”, setting out the proposed way forward for health and care services in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis.
“Nurses welcome the publication of plans to take forward how we return to normal services in health care,” said Ms Cullen.
“There cannot, however, be meaningful rebuilding and transformation without full engagement with health care staff and openness and transparency during every step taken.
“This includes robust scrutiny and accountability in relation to decisions that are made,” she said.
She welcomed comments made on Tuesday by Mr Swann when he presented his framework to the Northern Ireland Assembly, in which he recognised the need to build a new system that better supported nurses.
“As he said today, nursing staff, only a few months ago, were forced to stand on picket lines to demand safe staffing and fair pay,” added Ms Cullen (pictured above).
“Nurses must be represented fully, and on an equal footing with other professions, at any decision-making table.”
As the first cases of Covid-19 were being recorded in Asia towards the start of the year, nurses in Northern Ireland were taking industrial action including strike to demand better pay and safer staffing.
In February, nurses subsequently accepted a deal put forward by Mr Swann and the newly reformed devolved government that ended the dispute.
While promises around nurse pay rises and increasing student nurses places, which were laid out in the deal have been followed through, Ms Cullen indicated that there was more to be done.
“We cannot go back to the service that we left in January”
“As we come out of this pandemic, we need to ensure that staff are rewarded and valued properly moving forward,” she noted.
“We also need to ensure that the issues that were on the table, such as the promise of legislation for safe nurse staffing are not forgotten about,” she said.
“If this pandemic has shown us anything, it is that we cannot compromise on the need to ensure we have the right number of nurses and other health care staff. It is impossible to deliver services without them.”
During the session in the Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday, Mr Swann said he could not put a timeline on when normal services would be returned due to the nature of the ongoing pandemic.
Instead, plans would be formed on a three-monthly cycle from June 2020 to March 2022.
But he warned: “We cannot go back to the service that we left in January, because our waiting lists were getting longer and our nurses were on strike because of pay conditions and safe staffing conditions.
“It is about using the opportunity that we have in these three-monthly review steps to make sure that we have a health and social care system that supports the patients who need urgent care and routine care; but also ensures that staff across our entire health and social care system are safe, confident and supported in the job that they do in supporting the people who need their help and care.”
As part of the rebuilding commitment, trusts in the country have produced and published local plans for scaling up services in the immediate period to 30 June.
These plans include an ongoing emphasis on high priority cancer services and other urgent conditions.