Colleagues NIPSA acknowledges the NHS, Agenda for Change Terms and Conditions, particularly Part One, Principles and Partnership including:

1.3 The provisions set out in this handbook are based on the need to ensure a fair system of pay for NHS employees which supports modernised working practices. The provisions recognise that modern forms of healthcare rely on flexible teams of staff providing patient care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and applying a wide range of skills.

while point 1.4 includes:

The national partners have agreed to work together to meet the reasonable aspirations of all the parties to:

  • assist the goal of achieving a quality workforce with the right numbers of staff, with the right skills and diversity, and organised in the right way
  • improve the recruitment, retention and morale of the NHS workforce

Whilst NIPSA is not a full member of the NHS Staff Council we acknowledge and contribute to the Agenda for Change Staff Council via our participation as a leading Trade Union in Health Service in Northern Ireland.
NIPSA and its members remain committed to upholding these Principles however it is of concern to NIPSA that members have experienced an increase in workloads, work related stress and other serious health issues due to the historic failure to invest in jobs and ensure safe staffing over the last number of years.

On top of this the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic has exacerbated the Crisis across Health with Members working beyond capacity to the detriment of their health and in some cases their lives.

Members’ health and well-being is again being put at risk due to unacceptable workloads in a culture where we move from Crisis to Crisis. This is ultimately a direct failure by Government, the Department and Employer’s in their duty of care for its staff.

As part of NIPSA’s ongoing campaign for safe staffing NIPSA is acutely aware of the enduring Day to Day pressures upon those members who remain in service and wish to draw members attention to the following frequently asked questions.
NB. Please note where your Contract of Employment specifically requires you to undertake any of the following please seek advice from your NIPSA Representative in the first instance before taking the actions indicated below.

When Pressure builds:
How Can I protect my health well-being and maintain employment.

The first step is to consider your work life balance: -

  • Try not to work beyond your normal paid hours
  •  Don’t do unpaid work
  • Ensure Management cover vacant posts in a timely manner
  • Ensure management cover long term sick (over 4 weeks) or cover maternity leave
  • Take all your normal breaks
  • Seek support from Management, Occupational Health, GP, NIPSA Representative
Can my manager ask me to do the duties of an unfilled post?
  • NIPSA believe Health Service workers are doing everything they can to ensure the public gets a quality service. If a member feels that they are working at full capacity, management may still request they take on additional work but our members have a right to decline to do so until reasonable adjustments are made to their existing workload. Where there is a disagreement regarding the workload then our member should contact a Branch Officer.
  • If a member agrees to take on unallocated or higher priority work, then it is a requirement of management to ensure our staff members normal workloads are adjusted and reduced accordingly.

If the manager refuses to make these adjustments for the member to carry out these extra duties due to posts being unfilled then, members should take advice from their NIPSA Representatives or Human Resources Directorate and make their objections in writing, request a risk assessment or consider pursuing appropriate HSC Policy avenue’s such as Grievance, Health and Safety or Whistleblowing.

What is Health Employer’s Response to posts being unfilled?

The following is not definitive but the employer can

  • Appoint a Temporary Worker
  • Appoint a Bank Worker
  • Allocate additional hours as Overtime or TOIL - in the first instance members are entitled to overtime payment and only at their request and not managements can TOIL be applied.
  • Despite these options, the majority of the time the Health Employer lets the posts remain unfilled with the work of the individual being added to the work of existing staff with obvious negative results and their goodwill being exploited.
The effects on Members when posts are left unfilled
  • Additional stress resulting in deterioration in physical and mental health (professional burnout). This is ultimately a direct failure by the Employer in its duty of care for its staff.
  • Leading to an increase in sick leave, having a further ripple effect on already under-resourced staff teams.
  • Members being made to feel guilty if they don’t agree to take on additional duties.

Potential effects on the Service when posts are left unfilled

  • Services users and families not receiving quality of service caused by added pressures/workloads on staff members.
  • Boundaries can become blurred between staff teams resulting in ascertaining who is responsible for particular services/work
  • Due to sickness absence caused by stress the Employer may fall short in its statutory requirements for care.
Covering Sick Absence
  • NIPSA understands that people get sick and we have no difficulty with member’s coverings posts for a short period. However, we ask that members do not cover posts for long term absences including sick leave (Over 4 weeks) or maternity leave.
Vacant Posts
  • There are thousands of vacant posts within the NHS caused by staff leaving and posts being unfilled.
  • NIPSA advise that such posts should not be covered after 5 working days.
Emergency Work
  • NIPSA would advise our members in different services within the Health Service to cover emergency work in the short–term as we clearly would not wish for a child or vulnerable adult to suffer harm.
Taking Breaks
  • Many members work through their lunch breaks or stay late because of high work volumes. We are would urge members to consider their health and well-being, observe your breaks and where possible leave on time in accordance with your contract.
  • You cannot be disciplined for ensuring your Health and Safety at work which includes looking after your well-being – if you are threatened with disciplinary action, contact your Branch immediately.

Members’ should ask for a risk assessment if they are being asked to take on more work and ask management what work they are taking off you to allow you to complete this work.

Don’t suffer in silence, do not continue to cover the widening cracks in our Health and Social Care System and pretend everything is fine – when it is very clearly not!

NIPSA appreciates that members find it difficult to refuse to take additional work however by taking on increasing additional duties members are professionally vulnerable and masking the critical issue of inadequate staffing levels.

Speak to your NIPSA Branch Representatives



Terry Thomas
Assistant Secretary