The Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith has said that the health service crisis is "unacceptable".

Speaking outside Stormont, Mr Smith said that he is sorry that health workers have had to take industrial action and he is sorry that patients are being impacted.

He was in Belfast for meetings with members of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and trade unions.

This week, nurses from the Royal College of Nurses took part in industrial action for the first time in 103 years.

Ongoing pickets outside hospitals and industrial action by health workers are ramping up ahead of all out strike action scheduled for 18 December.

They are demanding pay parity with the rest of the UK and are demanding staffing levels that are safe for patients.

Mr Smith has been coming under pressure to intervene and put money on the table.

He insisted it is a devolved matter so decisions have to be taken, and negotiations have to be made, by those working in the civil service.

However, he added that he will be having more talks with unions and civil servants over the coming days and that he will do what he can within his powers to help resolve the dispute.

"I do not have the powers to direct the Northern Ireland civil service but I think that there's good work going on," he said. 

"The conversations that I've had today with the two main trade unions have been positive, I look forward to seeing them tomorrow. I will see Richard Pengelly (Northern Ireland Department of Health chief) and David Sterling (Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service) later today and I will do anything I can to make sure we can move through this difficult period."

In response to concerns about people's lives being at risk, he said it is time to get people around the table to resolve the issues around pay and conditions.

On the issue of the executive, he said they need to get back into talks immediately after the election and health has to be the top discussion.

He said it is really important they get the executive up and running to ensure pay parity and reform in the health service can happen.

Reporters challenged Mr Smith on whether his constituents in Skipton and Ripon in England would put up with what is happening in Northern Ireland with 306,000 people on waiting lists.

In response, he said he does not think it is an acceptable situation, and he said that is why he is working to try and get the executive moving.