Political parties in Northern Ireland look set to back a draft deal that would prioritise settling the ongoing nurse pay dispute and other workforce issues, as part of a new power-sharing agreement.
Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party have given their backing to the draft deal to restore Stormont’s political institutions after the collapse of the power-sharing coalition in January 2017.
“I urge the parties to come together and to form an executive in the best interests of NI”
The three remaining smaller parties – the SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance – are currently holding internal discussions now to decide if they will also rejoin the executive, according to the BBC.
Under the deal, a new devolved government would prioritise settling the pay dispute, take action on waiting times and create an extra 900 nursing and midwifery undergraduate places over three years.
Last night, Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith put forward the deal, along with Irish deputy prime minster Simon Conveney, to the five Stormont parties.
The deal, called New Decade, New Approach, sparked the Northern Ireland Assembly to reconvene today to discuss the potential return of the power-sharing government.
The deal has promised enough funds to solve the pay dispute in an effort to immediately end industrial action – which has been undertaken since November 2019.
However, the funds will not be released unless politicians agree to the deal.
The latest strike action by Northern Irish nurses from unions, including the Royal College of Nursing and Unison, took place today, with Nursing Times journalist Rebecca Gilroy reporting live from the picket line.
How Nursing Times has covered the pay dispute so far:
As well as pay, the draft power-sharing deal promises urgent action on primary care, mental health, alcohol and fertility treatment.
Healthcare organisations and unions are yet to release statements on the deal.
However, speaking generally earlier today, DUP leader Arlene Foster, said: “On balance we believe there is a basis upon which the assembly and executive can re-established in a fair and balanced way.
“The last three years have been bad for Northern Ireland politics. We need to get moving forward again,” she said.
“The key to making devolution work will be having the resources to do so. This element of the paper will require further scrutiny,” she added.
Meanwhile, this afternoon, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald told a Stormont press conference that her party was up for a return to “genuine power sharing”.
“I believe power sharing can work but that requires everyone to step up. We need to have an inclusive executive,” she said, according to the BBC.
On Thursday night, introducing the draft deal, Mr Smith said: “This is a moment of truth for the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. It is a fair and balanced deal that will ensure key decisions about peoples’ lives can be made.
“It immediately ends the health strike, focuses on reforms to health and social care, ensures more sustainable institutions, better politics and greater transparency and a new framework on language, arts and literature.”
He added: “I urge the parties to come together and to form an executive in the best interests of NI.”
Plan states that immediate priorities for restored executive should include:
- Long-term funding strategy to immediately settle the ongoing pay dispute, introduce a new action plan on waiting times and deliver reforms on health and social care
- No-one waiting over a year at 30 September 2019 for outpatient or inpatient assessment/treatment will still be on a waiting list by March 2021
- Reconfigure hospital provision to deliver better patient outcomes, more stable services and sustainable staffing. Improvements will be made in stroke, breast assessment, urgent and emergency care and day case elective care by the end of 2020
- Deliver an extra 900 nursing and midwifery undergraduate places over three years
- Consider the scope for changing how waiting times are measured, to reflect the entire patient journey, from referral to treatment, with appropriate targets
- Publish a mental health action plan within two months and a mental health strategy by December 2020
- Direction for Alcohol and Drugs Phase two within three months and a new strategy and implementation plan on cancer by December 2020.
- Build capacity in general practice through the ongoing rollout of multi-disciplinary teams to cover a further 100,000 patients by March 2021
- Provide increased investment to fully implement service improvements for palliative and end of life care including enhancing the contribution of hospices
- Provide three funded cycles of IVF treatment