Scottish and Welsh patients face cancelled appointments as Northern Ireland’s SDLP outlines support for striking workers, reports Left Foot Forward’s Ed Jacobs.
Just days after one teaching union in Scotland warned next Wednesday’s national day of strike action over public sector pensions will leave 99 per cent of all schools north of the border closed, there have been reports thousands of patients have had hospital appointments and operations cancelled or postponed.
As around 50,000 healthcare staff in Scotland take industrial action, most routine surgeries and appointments have already been cancelled but urgent operations will go ahead and emergency services will continue to work as normal.
Making clear the reluctance of nursing staff to take such action, Norman Provan, associate director of the Royal College of Nursing in Scotland, explained:
“No nurse would ever take a decision on industrial action lightly and it is a fundamental principle of the RCN that members will not act in any way which is detrimental to the well-being or interests of their patients.
“However, our members are so angry about the government’s proposed changes to the NHS pension scheme that, should trade union and government talks fail by the end of the year, we will ballot.
“In the meantime, the RCN is supporting the day of action on November 30th. Although health boards have made arrangements to ensure services continue in a limited way on that day, there may be some instances where members are concerned about the level of care they are providing.
“In these circumstances, they should speak immediately to their line manager or RCN representative.”
For the public sector union UNISON, meanwhile, Scottish organiser Dave Watson warned:
“Essentially, there will be emergency cover in the health service next Wednesday but it will be more like a public holiday. We want to ensure life-and-limb cover but most routine surgery and appointments have already been cancelled.”
Across Wales, it has been reported up to half of the NHS workforce is set to strike next week including staff on the frontline.
Outlining what it will mean for patients on the ground, a spokesman for the Welsh government said:
“With a two-year pay freeze, rising fuel costs, inflation at 5%, and the threat of redundancy, it’s clear public sector workers are facing a particularly tough time at the moment. The focus of the Welsh government is to minimise the impact of any industrial action on our public services.
“We have been assured by the NHS it has contingency plans in place to maintain essential services, including ambulances, emergency departments and emergency operations. Some non-essential operations and consultant appointments may have to be postponed and patients will be notified by NHS organisations in advance and offered alternative appointments.”
Meanwhile, as MSPs at Holyrood clashed over who will or won’t be prepared to cross picket lines to turn up to debates in the Scottish Parliament, the new leader of the SDLP in Northern Ireland, Alasdair McDonnell, has made clear his party’s Assembly Members will not cross any picket line outside Stormont.
Outlining “wholehearted support” for striking workers, Dr McDonnell concluded in a statement on the party’s website:
“While there may be those in the Stormont administration who want to project the image of ‘business as usual’ while public sector workers make their voices heard, our MLAs will be standing shoulder to shoulder with those who are protesting against stinging cuts to our services.
“We offer our wholehearted support to those taking a stand for high-quality public services and will be showing that support to our colleagues in NIPSA in particular by respecting their picket-line.”
Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.
• Scottish union chief accuses government of behaving like a “Victorian millowner” – Ed Jacobs, November 22nd 2011
• Raab’s attacks on workers’ rights are – surprise – based on no evidence – Sarah Veale, November 16th 2011
• Enough is Enough: Why young people deserve a decent pension – Adele Reynolds, November 11th 2011
• Hutton repeats his big fat lie on public sector pensions – Alex Hern, November 4th 2011
• Priti Patel’s attacks on trade unions are all about ideology – Carl Roper, October 12th 2011