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Health board preparing for “difficult winter” with flu, covid and nursing strike

TriTech Institute Health and Social Care Technology Challenge

North Wales’s health board is bracing itself for a difficult winter as it looks to cope with the impact of flu, Covid, and a potential nursing strike among other pressures.

At a meeting of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, Chair of Governors Mark Polin welcomed Jill Harris as interim chief executive after the departure of Jo Whitehead in the summer.

Ms Harris gave a report to the board on work that is taking place in preparation for potential industrial action in December.

Nurses in the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union are campaigning for a pay rise of five per cent above RPI inflation.

This is to overcome real-terms pay cuts, and support nursing staff through the cost-of-living crisis.

Members of the Unison union are also currently balloting their members on potential strike action.

“We are putting plans into place and the team are working to see what mitigations we can put in place should this industrial action go forward”, Ms Harris said.

The board heard more detail on preparations for this from its executive director of nursing Sue Green.

She said: “We have established our own industrial action planning cell. We are working to the guidance that has been agreed at a national level together with information we’ve kept from previous action that the health board has managed.

“We are working closely with trade union partners and I’ve had some helpful conversations over the last couple of days.

“Clearly this is a national dispute and it is really important that we respect colleagues right to take action. Equally we support those who choose not to take action when their trade union has a mandate to do so.

“RCN colleagues have indicated an intention to take a level of action in December, likely to be before Christmas so at this point we’re waiting to see the outcome of the ballot that Unison are currently holding. We’re likely to receive the results of that early next week.”

She added: “We’re required to get 14 days’ notice. We’re confident that plans will be in place.

“We have managed industrial action previously as an organisation and through Covid we developed a number of different methods to ensure record keeping as well as safe deployment of staff.”

Ms Green added that the health board is identifying current non-clinical staff who are registered who could go back out onto the wards.

Later in the meeting Executive Medical Director Dr Nick Lyons provided an update on progress of the health board’s ‘winter plan’ to deliver a safe winter for the population.

He outlined some of the possible challenges including potential power outages, the twin threat of Covid, flu and other winter viruses, as well as the industrial action.

Dr Lyons said: “We are looking at areas such as our surge capacity both at our acute sites and at our community sites, and ensuring we haver plans to staff those safely.

“We’re looking at our community access to minimise attendance at our busy emergency departments, making progress towards frailty assessments at the front door, trying to reduce the admission rate.

“The extra work we’re doing this year is recognising the threshold from what is inevitably going to be a challenging winter and moving into our emergency preparedness, resilience and response approach to management.”

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