Aontú West Tyrone candidate James Hope outlines his support for nurses and concerns at the state of the health service
Speaking in relation to the ongoing crisis in the north's health system, Aontú West Tyrone candidate, James Hope stated:
"Prior to Stormont's collapse, the Department of Health was overseen by successive Ministers for Health and cross-party health committees. The deterioration in the health system can only be understood in the context of decisions taken by ministers and committee members.
"There are currently almost 3,000 vacant nursing positions in the public system and likely the same number in the private sector. Hospital waiting times are worsening, with 300,000 people on those lists for 3 years or more.
"In West Tyrone and across the six counties, Aontú hears from families who are scrambling together money to avail of the European directive and overcome the dysunctional system here by seeking treatment in other EU states.
"Citizens seeking life-saving treatments, orthopaedic surgery and a host of other treatments are forced to look abroad because of the oppressive waiting times that they are forced to endure here. As a result, in addition to serious health difficutlies, patients and their families suffer from long term financial pressure and stress.
"The issue of parity of pay for nurses and allied health staff and employees of the HSC board is not something that has suddenly emerged. It is an unresolved matter since the introduction of the Agenda for Change in 2005.
"The question of how the Block Grant isbudgeted for and spent is of huge importance. Who oversees the spending and inefficiencies? We know through the block grant that the uplift for pay parity for nurses was made available, but where did that money go and why is pay parity for health care staff not in place?
"How did the establishment parties mismanage things so badly that we find ourselves in a complete crisis and meltdown, so much so, that for the first time ever, nurses are taking industrial action?
"Nurses are engaged in work-to-rule action. Though understaffed, they continue to deliver the best care that they possibly can. Contrary to what some officials would have the public believe, nurses have not embarked on all-out strike action. Nurses are justifiably angry about the blame placed on their shoulders by some officials.
"The reality is that dedicated hardworking health care staff, working beyond the terms of their employment contract, are stretched to the limit, understaffed, working 2-3 extra hours per shift and going the extra mile every day of the year.
"In truth, successive Ministers of Health, Assembly Health committes, the establishment parties that have held positions of power and the Department of Health must bear responsibility for the crisis in the health system that's really coming to the surface now."