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Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the debate. My party colleague Michelle O’Neill outlined our position on the motion and the amendment. The debate raises the profile of nurses’ significance in society and highlights how Members value their work.
However, there is some ambiguity about the figure of 722 jobs. It would be valuable if there were some clarity about where that number came from in the first instance, and whether those 722 posts will disappear completely.
The Minister has said on occasion that these are not cuts. Other Members have referred to that. I am prepared to accept that what the Minister has said is the truth — that these are not cuts; they are changes to front line services. However, the point is that we need to know whether the changes to the front line services will enhance the service, or will change it in such a way that patient safety and health would be adversely affected. I am prepared to accept what the Minister has said, but there is ambiguity, and we need some clarity on that.
In the briefing from the RCN, which has already been mentioned, reference is made to the Minister’s comments of October 2008. The briefing states that the RCN generally supports the direction of travel of the modernisation. We all do. Perhaps I should not generalise in that way, but many of us accept the modernisation. As the spokesperson for the RCN said on another occasion, we are not against change for the sake of being against change, but we do need to establish exactly what the effect will be, whether these truly are efficiency savings, and exactly what the situation will be in the ward.
The RCN briefing made the point that there are issues related to training. If a nurse, for example, has to shift from one particular area of work to another, when and how will that training take place? I spoke with a representative of the Western Health and Social Care Trust this morning, and raised that issue. I am not sure that the way in which that will happen — moving from one area of work to another — has been sorted out. There has to be some type of time frame for that. I would welcome clarification on that from the Minister.
My understanding is that 350 nursing posts are under consideration in the Western Trust area. That was mentioned at a meeting of the Health Committee when Mr Easton raised the issue with Elaine Way. The issue of reinvestment was raised, which will involve 216 posts in the Western Trust, leaving 134 posts unfilled. I am keen to know where those 134 posts will go. I understand from a report produced by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) in relation to clostridium difficile and nursing shortages in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust that there is a direct link between nursing shortages and infection. I would welcome some clarity about those 134 posts. Will we notice that gap in the Western Trust? My reading of the issue is that that has not been managed in a uniform manner across the trusts. When I spoke to the representative of the Western Trust today, I got some reassurance on how it was being managed. We in the west will be keen to follow that up.
Before finishing, a LeasCheann Comhairle, I want to state, as have other Members, that we value the work that nurses do. We do not want to put them under extra pressure. There is not enough money for everything. The Minister himself has said — and I could not agree more — that there have been years of underfunding here. As the Minister said, that is unacceptable. The difference between here and England amounts to £600 million —