Unions in ‘cuts’ protest at city health conference

ICTU representative Ann Speed hands a letter of protest to Health Minister, Edwin Poots at Wednesdays Tranforming Your Care conference at the Millennium Forum on Wednesday morning.
ICTU representative Ann Speed hands a letter of protest to Health Minister, Edwin Poots at Wednesdays Tranforming Your Care conference at the Millennium Forum on Wednesday morning.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions have hit out at their exclusion from a major health conference in the city.

The ICTU protested outside the ‘Transforming Your Care, Transforming Our Practice’ conference on Wednesday morning to highlight their opposition to cuts to health budgets. The union argue their views on health reform are being “sidelined”.

Representatives wanted to use the protest to highlight the fact they had not been invited to contribute to the debate on the future of health provision in Northern Ireland. The ‘Transforming Your Care’ conference, organised by Northern Ireland Confederation for Health and Social Care (NICON).

Conference organisers stated they aimed to: “Communicate the Transforming Your Care change agenda and showcase progress. Demonstrate emerging good practice locally and in other areas and acknowledge key challenges and seek solutions to implementation issues.”

ICTU, which represents some 250, 000 members Ireland wide, said they were unhappy at not being included among those stakeholders and partner organisations invited to contribute to the debate. The organisation then handed a letter of protest to the Health Minister, Edwin Poots upon his arrival at the conference.

The Chair of the Northern Ireland Health Council of Trades Unions and head of bargaining and representation of Unison NI, Ann Speed, said: “We believe we should have been approached and invited to contribute to the debate as equal partners in health care reform.

“We are here today to say the health services can not continue along this path of cut, cut, cut: Our slogan ‘For the people - without the people is not about the people,’ that is our message today.” Mrs. Speed asked: “Why over ten years since the introduction of the Good Friday Agreement are our health graphs heading in the wrong direction? The health statistics are dramatic: Disadvantaged working class people in our society are dying prematurely, have a widening gap in life expectancy and top the suicide rates at a faster pace than before the GFA and Devolution. A solution requires a dramatic shift in resources and the direct involvement of all facets of government. Instead we have ‘Transforming Your Care’, an accountancy device designed to manage the cuts in the health budget. NICON has a moral obligation to speak out and to ensure that other voices are heard. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions find it unacceptable that we were not invited in to put our views across. Many of those attending today are employees of the Health Trust, how are they supposed to negotiate or stand up to these cuts?

“Therefore there is a moral obligation on us to speak out against the cuts as outlined in the ‘Transforming your care’ project. The protest is not about sour grapes at not being invited into the meeting, but an opportunity to highlight the issues, We see, first hand, the impact of the cuts. Funding is being reduced at a rate of 6% P/A. That impacts on services everyday.” Mrs. Speed then concluded by stating: “We are not against change but the minister can not shove his head into the sand any longer.”