Health Members members, below a letter emailed on Friday 3 April.
First Minister, Arlene Foster MLA
Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill MLA
Minister for Health, Robin Swann MLA
I write to you on behalf of NIPSA members working across the HSC in Hospital, Community and Voluntary sectors who provide essential health services to the public.
Over the last few months NIPSA members across all sectors have been raising growing concerns on key aspects of the strategy adopted by the Stormont Executive for dealing with the Covid–19 pandemic and what these strategies means for them.
We must register our alarm and anger at the detail provided yesterday to the Northern Ireland Assembly Health Committee, in relation to the provision of Covid–19 testing and the availability of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) across the HSC.
NIPSA has raised these issues time and again, both collectively within the regional structures for trade unions and independently as a trade union. NIPSA members are dedicated public servants, committed to delivering quality services to the people of Northern Ireland as all HSC workers are.
While appreciation, fine words and indeed applause are deeply appreciated by all health workers they are not employed as heroes, or angels or martyrs. People do not become Social Workers, Care Workers or Nurses because they expect any of these things. It is because they want to contribute to the welfare of all our people through their work in the HSC. NIPSA members however, do expect their employers, the Department of Health and ultimately the NI Executive to provide the infrastructure needed to enable them to give of their best in the current emergency.
Excellence in clinical advice, adherence to international best practice and above all else having the right kit at the right time and in the right place are the pre-requisites for services that enable people to give their best and stay safe at this crucial period.
NIPSA had written to the Health Minister on 27th March 2020 and has raised serious concerns about PPE and Testing over the last number of weeks with the Department of Health. We also noted that on the 27th March 2020 the Finance Minister had reported in relation to PPE that a “significant order which should satisfy our supply demands” was due to come into NI from China. However, at the Health Committee the Health Minister stated that PPE supplies were on the way but referenced ‘challenges’ in the supply chain. That is disturbing.
Add to that the contribution made to the Health Committee by the Chief Executive of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust when she told the Committee that she had been informed by the HSC Business Services Organisation that a consignment of PPE destined for Northern Ireland had been “turned back”. Our members are asking how can this happen at this time in what is the biggest public health emergency in a generation?
It has been known for some time that testing kits are being produced here in Northern Ireland by Randox Laboratories as part of a UK-wide contract but are being shipped out of Northern Ireland. As a result, our members, patients and clients will have to wait until supplies make their way back to Northern Ireland as part of the UK supply chain. This is ludicrous.
In the Republic of Ireland, around one-quarter of all notified positive covid–19 cases are health care workers. Our members are working in environments that see them at the frontline of this disastrous situation. Fear and stress, for themselves but particularly for their own loved ones, sit alongside their determination to deliver for the people they serve. This must be acknowledged and addressed.
Providing advice that is increasingly perceived as being divorced from international best practice of WHO/ECDC guidelines serves no one, least of all the HSC leadership we need to rely on. If workers are knowingly exposed to inappropriate levels of risk which then compromises them and the services we all rely on will, NIPSA suspects, not be a position that posterity will view kindly.
The honesty shown by the Minister for Health at yesterday’s committee, while deeply alarming, would ironically be most welcome if it heralds a more honest and clear assessment from the Northern Ireland Executive about what is being done to protect workers across the HSC.
On behalf of our members we demand an immediate statement to explain openly, what the current position is with regard to testing and PPE and more importantly, what is being done to address these issues. Urgent answers are needed now from the Department of Health and Northern Irelands political leadership; this is what is expected from those that are expected to step in harm’s way for us all.
NIPSA Assistant Secretary