Health administrators came under a full-frontal assault on Wednesday with two articles in the Belfast Telegraph.

One attack, led by the editor in the Belfast Telegraph opinion column, opined 'NHS is too top-heavy with administrators'.

NIPSA's immediate response is, if you get rid of administrators and clerical staff, who then would do this essential work?

If, for instance the editor found they were on a 'patient journey' who would then write the referral letters from the clinical diagnosis to senior health practitioners in the hospital.  Is the editor suggesting the front-line medical staff break away from their duties of care to become, in the paper's demeaning view, 'pen-pushers'.

No suggestion was made in the warped editorial as to who would do this much-needed work.

The editor of the Belfast Telegraph has stooped to a new low in the distaste for NIPSA members, especially those employed in the NHS.

Our members serve the community they live in and they assist health care professionals they work alongside...and this type of alt-right thinking we find is truly sickening.

The opinion piece begins by saying: "Most people will be shocked to learn that around a fifth of the NHS workforce in NI is made up of administrative and clerical staff."

The editorial claimed that admin staff were responsible for the diverting 'badly-needed resources away from front line care'.

This warped assertion is something that NIPSA would vehemently deny and ridiculously the editor goes on to clearly state that the problem lies with funding the service.

The editorial reads: "The lack of funding is one of the reasons given for the shortage of nurses here and their professional body says those working in the local health service are paid less than their counter parts in other parts of the UK".

What's the Real Agenda?

The direct attack on our members, NIPSA asserts, has now become part of the 'alt-right agenda', which sees the NHS starved of resources and as it flounders blame the workers...hopefully leading to the break-up of the NHS which will lead to more outsourcing and privatisation of services to companies friendly to the Tory-DUP Government and the newspaper's owner and friends.

In direct contrast, the A&C staff received support on three fronts with the Permanent Health Secretary, Richard Pengelly, weighing in on the issue with comments supporting the work they do (https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/news/statement-department-healths-richard-pengelly-response-newspaper-article).

In short, he attacked the tone of articles when he said: "It is disappointing that a local newspaper has sought to demean health service administrative colleagues as 'pen pushers'.  He went on to say: "Everyone who works in Health and Social Care plays an important role in the care we provide and should be valued for it.  No organisation - in any sector - can function effectively without an efficient back office.  Administrative and clerical staff cover vital areas and without them doctors and nurses would have a great deal less time for patients.  The reality is that, in their absence, the health service could not function for a day."

Taking the Belfast Telegraph to task, he added: "Is the journalist really suggesting that we should pull highly trained clinicians away from a patient facing role and ask them to undertake such work?  To put the issue into a context the newspaper might better understand - it's self -evident that many people other than journalists will be involved in bringing a daily newspaper to its readers.  The list will include advertising staff, delivery drivers, printing and security workers.  It will include - believe it or not - people who work behind desks.  Are all these roles to be similarly demeaned?  Nothing will be gained by denigrating any section of staff.  My message to those colleagues affected by this is simple - on behalf of the community we serve, sincere thanks for the work you do every day.  And I promise you that you are genuinely valued and appreciated by those who properly understand your important role," Mr Pengelly concluded.

NIPSA wishes to thank the Permanent Health Secretary for his much-needed interjection against the Belfast Telegraph attack.

The admin and clerical staff were further supported when Charlotte McAdam, Chief Nursing Officer NI with RN, said on Twitter: "Seriously!   Admin and all other staff support clinical team deliver patient care.  Who does @BelTel think arranges clinics, appointments, clinical notes, answers phones, orders stock, recruits staff, pays staff and more.  HSC would collapse without ALL staff.  Allows nurses to nurse".

NIC ICTU also laid into the Belfast Telegraph for its warped view when it tweeted about both articles: "The Editorial is worse: "the admin do divert badly-needed resources away from front-line care".  Ignorance to the point of irresponsibility.  Our #NHS can't attract medics/nurses because of pay caps/workload - and daft NHS-bashing like this. #StandupforPenPushers.

Strategic Workforce Planning

Even though NIPSA was not asked to participate in the initial news story, the union's response is:

1. NIPSA fundamentally would not accept that the A&C numbers of staff in the HSC (NI) are disproportionate or represents over bureaucracy.

2. Such assertions are over simplistic such staff are absolutely essential to maintain service delivery.  It does not give the true picture and is somewhat unfair.

3. The shortages of clinical and nursing staff are well documented and have been highlighted previously by trade unions and staff side organisations.

4. As a result of the Bengoa Report and the Minister's 10 Year Vision of Working Well Together the Department of Heath has embarked on a Strategic Workforce Planning Directive aimed at  addressing these problems.  These are being taken forward through the Transformation Implementation Group (TIG) by way of a specific workstream.

5. Such claims fail to take account of:

(a) two major RPA exercises conducted in Health designed to make the Department, Trusts and Arms-Length Bodies more efficient and effective; and 

(b) at times there is an over reliance and misuse of Agency staff within the system which skews the numbers

6. We have a situation where the Health and Social Care Board is to close but over a period of time further necessary work has been given to the Board by the Department which has seen an increase in numbers.

7. NIPSA along with other trade unions have argued that proper workforce planning is the answer putting the right people in the right place at the right time with the appropriate skill mix to ensure the appropriate service delivery model.

The Belfast Telegraph opinion piece https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/editors-viewpoint/editors-viewpoint-nhs-is-too-topheavy-with-administrators-37239607.html  with the accompanying headline - Editor's Viewpoint: NHS is too top-heavy with administrators.

The news article https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/health/one-in-five-of-northern-irelands-health-service-staff-in-administration-or-clerical-posts-report-37239449.html, authored by Lisa Smyth, with the accompanying headline - One in five of Northern Ireland's health service staff in administration or clerical posts: report.