UNISON Northern Ireland


Today (5th November 2020) the NI Executive will meet to consider the continuation of restrictions it has put in place to stop the spread of Covid-19 amidst media reports that they will be advised by health officials to further extend restrictions. Commenting in advance of the Executive meeting, UNSON Regional Secretary Patricia McKeown said:

‘‘Today the Executive will be considering difficult issues on the restrictions placed on society to combat the spread of Covid-19. It appears that the Executive will be advised to continue restrictions for a further two weeks. We do not underestimate how difficult these decisions are for the Executive, nor do we dismiss the impact that these restrictions are having on the economy. But the first priority of our elected representatives must be to protect the public.

We should not forget that we had to enter this current period of restrictions because the spread of the virus had grown beyond our control and was threatening to overwhelm our health service. 

UNISON is the single largest union representing workers right across our health and social care system. We know from them that our health service is under pressure like never before. We are facing into a perfect storm with a system that was already missing thousands of workers now seeing increasing numbers of patients requiring treatment for Covid-19, combined with winter pressures and large numbers of workers having to self-isolate.  

Over the last several weeks capacity across our hospitals has grown increasingly stretched with more and more admissions to ICU, inevitably diminishing the ability of the system to provide all the other forms of treatment the public needs. The number of outbreaks across our care homes has risen dramatically, with our members struggling to provide care for our elderly and vulnerable citizens.   

The Executive collectively needs to strengthen and improve our testing and tracing system, but this must be combined with proper financial supports for those asked to self-isolate to stop the spread of the virus. We also need a furlough scheme that delivers 100% of pay for those who cannot work because of the restrictions, particularly critical for the lowest paid in our society who right now may be receiving less than the minimum wage. Rather than drawing a false dichotomy between lives and livelihoods, all of our politicians, both at Stormont and Westminster, should be doing all they can to see the furlough scheme extended and enhanced and to introduce proper financial support for those self-isolating. 

We are urging the Executive to take the public health advice it will receive today extremely seriously. The protection of the public and our members who are putting themselves at risk to care for them must be at the forefront of the debate. Now is the time for us all to suppress the spread of the pandemic, protect our health service which is already working beyond its capacity, and protect the public.’’