A nurse at South West Acute Hospital has said that they believe a return to direct rule would be better than the current political stalemate that grips Northern Ireland, which they say has contributed to the decision by health workers to go on strike.

In a wide ranging interview the nurse, who does not want to be named, said that the current strike is about patient safety as much as it is about pay parity, while they also claim that health in Fermanagh is at “crisis point” and that the Western Health and Social Care Trust is too “Derry centric”.

“Nurses have been pointing out that we have had unsafe staffing levels for a long long time. We are cut to the bone. If someone goes off sick there is simply no cover, no leeway. The vast majority of nurses work beyond their contracted hours. Nurses are in half an hour early and leaving a half an hour to an hour after they are due to finish. That is just a fact,” the nurse said before discussing the issue of pay disparity and the knock-on effect this is having on recruitment:

“There is a pay differential between ourselves and England Scotland and Wales. If you are newly qualified and you have no ties why would you not go to England. It means that the newly trained staff are not available to us and that makes the staffing crisis worse,” they said, before adding.

“You are going to have a recruitment crisis when you are giving temporary contracts rather than permanent contracts, when you are not paying people fairly. Nurses are looking across the water, and down south because the pay is better. And given that we live in a Border region it is a perfect storm for us.”

The nurse also spoke about the pressures that nurses face and the fact that for many it is much more than a profession.

“We are a profession but by the same token to a large extent it is a vocation. That is why there is such a high attrition rate in nurse training. People see what it is involved and sometimes they don’t want to continue. And then the ones that do continue and do see it as a vocation, they are leaving to go elsewhere when they are qualified, because quite frankly, why would they stay? They can go somewhere else where they will be more valued and treated better.”

The nurse also explained that at this point it would be better if direct rule was implemented.

“We have to be honest about this. There seems to be no desire to get Stormont back up and running. It is not going to happen any time soon. We need decisions made, both on pay and in terms of the wider health service. I never thought I would be an advocate but it is time for direct rule because we need decisions to be made.”

Turning their attention to some of the specific issues that are affecting Fermanagh, the nurse could not hide their frustration by what they see as a lack of real analysis into the difficulties the county faces and also what they see as an “unfairness” in the pursuit of regionalisation within the health service in Northern Ireland.

“Somebody needs to ask questions about the specific issues that there are in the Fermanagh area. Why is there a fall in life expectancy in women in Fermanagh? Why is there a rise in lung cancers? Why have we got double the average suicide rate? And why are they talking about closing services and why is that fear of losing services felt so much in the community?”

The nurse wants to see services maintained in SWAH and indeed added to: “The best performing stroke unit in Northern Ireland and one of the top three in the UK is in SWAH and yet they are talking about closing it because of regionalisation.

“It makes no sense and it will only harm the people of this area,” they said, continuing.

“There needs to be change and there needs to be some regionalisation, but it needs to be fair and one part of Northern Ireland should not be made to suffer more than another, which is what I fear is happening and will happen. What I feel is that the Department of Health is very Belfast centric and the Western Trust is very Derry centric.”