NIPSA’s Health Panel met on Wednesday 10th March 2020, with a two item agenda. Firstly, to consider a written letter to NIPSA from the Department of Health (DOH) on safe staffing issues, and secondly to consider the escalating public concerns and current responses from the DOH and Health Trust’s to deal with the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Safe Staffing

In relation to the NIPSA’s ongoing Action Short of Strike Action, negotiating officials reported substantive progress with the DOH to address NIPSA’s concerns on the Framework Document on Safe Staffing. This was after the blockages to direct engagement between NIPSA and the DoH were addressed.

Following discussion, NIPSA received correspondence from the DoH, giving clarifications on key safe staffing issues which affect core areas of NIPSA membership in Social Work/Social Care, Administration and Clerical and Support Services. Much of this content was absent from the original framework document.

The view of NIPSA’s Health Panel was that while the assurances and commitments do not in themselves offer respite in the immediate term from the huge pressures many members face on a day and daily basis, they are both substantive and welcome.

In addition, the fact that the clarifications secured also acknowledge the potential contribution of HSC Trusts as well as the DOH in addressing short term staffing pressures, adds to the mechanisms available to address staffing pressures.

The DOH letter to NIPSA states:

  • There will be urgent and sustained engagement on Social Work and the wider social care family to address staffing concerns as well as the roles and associated funding implications;
  • The Social Work Workforce Review will be published as soon it is completed (current target September 2020) which will be accompanied by a fully-costed implementation plan with the establishment of a workstream to oversee accepted recommendations;
  • Immediate establishment of two workstreams on Admin and Clerical and Support Services with TOR’s agreed by March 31st 2020 with final reports to be agreed September 2020;
  • HSC Employers will hold priority consultations with trade unions to agree appropriate local Trust based responses to local Trust workforce pressures;
  • The DOH commits to an urgent schedule of discussions to develop a costed action plan for the implementation of the health and social care workforce strategy 2026;
  • Urgent filling of all permanent posts on a permanent basis;
  • Development of career progression for staff;
  • Availability of paid in-service training for staff;
  • Expedition of the recruitment process;
  • A plan to address Agency Spend;
  • Workstreams will tackle recruitment issues including delays in recruiting to posts, training, career progression and associated issues;
  • Accelerate progress on the Work-Life Balance action in the Workforce Strategy;
  • Removal of unnecessary temporary contracts with a view to filling posts where possible on a permanent basis;
  • Establishment of targeted recruitment initiatives;
  • Look at and establish routes for training in social care and Social Work through the Open University and employment-based routes.

It was the view of NIPSA’s Health Panel that these points offer NIPSA the opportunity to constructively engage and participate through the collective structures with the DOH to begin to address Safe Staffing issues across large sections of the NIPSA membership.

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

NIPSA’s Health Panel also discussed in detail the current escalation of DOH and Trust’s plans to deal with the current Corona virus scenario. It is clear that all HSC employers are currently putting in an unprecedented level of planning and preparation work as the system prepares to deal with whatever may unfold in the coming weeks.

As a Trade Union, our primary concern remains protecting the interests and wellbeing of our members and of the services and service users we work with. The panel discussed the rapidly escalating scenario, the commitment of our members to the services they provide as evidenced by their willingness to take action to defend them and the potential pressures that the currently established Action Short of Strike Action might add to as Corona virus preparations continue.

Decisions of NIPSA’s Health Panel

Following detailed consideration of the above issues the panel took the following decisions:

  • All Action Short of Strike Action currently in place from NIPSA is suspended with immediate effect;
  • An urgent meeting with the Chief Social Services Officer is being sought to address pressing MCA implementation issues;
  • NIPSA will continue to highlight the unsafe working practices, risks to professional registration and safe service issues that our industrial action has highlighted with the appropriate bodies;
  • Although action short of strike action is suspended, each NIPSA Branch will continue to have a major focus on safe staffing issues;

Members can be assured that the suspension of formal action does not mean a return to the way things were before. An office with half a workforce can still only do half the work, one person cannot do the work of two. It is for employers not individual members to deal with the consequences of decisions not to backfill sick leave or maternity leave etc. In that regard, members should continue to work closely with their Branch representatives who will address these issues directly with the employer.

In conclusion, the concrete progress on actions to address the state of staffing in many service areas has been down to the determination and commitment of NIPSA’s thousands of members whose defence of services has led to the DOH offering the commitments detailed above. NIPSA congratulates all members in taking this action.

Maria Morgan
Assistant Secretary