A nurse at the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) who was part of industrial action over disputes on pay parity and safe staffing levels has cautiously welcomed the announcement by newly appointed Department of Health Minister to restore pay parity with England.

Robin Swann (UUP) pledged to restore pay parity with England for this year and next in one of the first actions of the new powersharing administration.

It is estimated to cost an extra £109 million.

Thousands of nurses, including those working at the South West Acute Hospital, took to the picket lines over a dispute in pay parity and dangerous staffing levels.

Damien McHugh, a Paediatrics Diabetes Specialist Nurse, says that now an announcement has been made, the next steps will tell if it is going to be enough.

“The announcement is good news but provided that it is backed up by action in regards of safe staffing because it was never just about pay it was always about safe staffing. The question is what is their plan going forward?” said Damien.

“Our whole argument, yes there was a lot made out of the pay parity and that was part of it but the pay parity was all part of the safe staffing because when you have got a differential in pay then you are going to have a difficulty in retaining staff.”

Many saw the strikes as a main catalyst in getting Stormont back up and running, and now that it has been restored, Damien hopes it brings a close to the industrial action.

“I don’t know if it was the main catalyst but it certainly had a part to play in it. I think it certainly had a part to play in it because there was so much public support for the nurses that I think a lot of the politicians felt under pressure.

“We are absolutely delighted that it looks like we are coming to the end of it, none of us wanted to strike in the first instance but we were left with no other option as I said on several occasions none of us went into nursing to strike.”

Mr. Swann said: “The breakthrough we all wanted has been achieved.

“This is a good day after some very difficult days.”

Part of the cost for the current year is to be financed by drawing forward proposed allocations for future years.

Mr. Swann added: “Additional funding has now been secured. Pay parity with England can be restored.

“Our nurses and other great health and social care workers can come off the picket line, can get back to the job that they love and do so well.”

A Joint Health Trade Unions released a statement saying they had a meaningful briefing with the Minister for Health in advance of his address to the assembly.

“We expect correspondence from the Minister on the two substantial issues in the current dispute, pay parity and safe staffing.

“Tomorrow we will spend time at the Department for Health considering the details on what is required for the restoration of pay parity.

“We will take the Minister’s correspondence to our respective executives this week and thereafter regional trade unions will make a public statement.”