Thousands of health workers are staging another day of strike action across Northern Ireland over pay parity and staffing levels.

Nurses and other staff are calling for pay parity with colleagues across the rest of the United Kingdom as well as an increase to staffing levels.

They gathered at picket lines at hospital sites across the region from 8am this morning. It is the third strike in a matter of weeks with three more planned for later this month.

Thousands of appointments have been cancelled and a number of hospital and community services are affected by the action.

Members of one of the trade unions involved, Unison, also staged demonstrations at the Department of Health and Stormont House, urging Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith and senior civil servants to "act now and restore pay parity".

Reacting to news of the draft deal to restore powersharing announced by Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Mr Smith, Unison regional secretary Patricia McKeown said there may be some hope of resolution, but she added: "We are not there yet.

"We await further developments today at Stormont.

"However should the political process fail, we will pursue Julian Smith to act in the public interest, make the resources available and instruct the Department of Health to restore pay parity.

"If the money is there, it should be released without delay."

With the UK government promising major financial support if devolution returns, Mr Smith said he had received assurances from trade union leaders that if the parties re-enter government they will call off the action.

But he warned that the finance package will not be forthcoming unless the parties restore Stormont. Mr Coveney and Mr Smith last night urged all parties to support the 'New Decade, New Approach' plan.

Meanwhile, workers in Northern Ireland's education sector are also urging politicians to support the plan, describing it as a "glimmer of hope".

Teachers are eight years into industrial action and school budgets are stretched to breaking point.

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Mr Smith visited Maghaberry Primary School in Co Antrim the morning, and school principal Graham Gault said: "This is something which should have been delivered three years ago.

"It is unacceptable that we are in this situation at the moment.

"Education and health have been decimated, are in total crisis, so at least today there is a glimmer of hope, but this is not the beginning of a new world just yet - we want to see delivery."

Mr Smith received a warm reception at the village primary school.

Extra funding for cash-strapped schools is on offer as part of the financial package from the British government if the deal is approved by Stormont's main parties.

Mr Gault said teachers have been taking industrial action for eight years over pay, had a salary offer agreed and have been patiently awaiting its implementation.

"It will be a great relief if this deal goes through and there is an end to industrial action and a pay deal for the teachers which, to be honest, is very overdue," he said.

The PSNI Chief Constable has also welcomed the publication of the Stormont deal.

Simon Byrne said: "Clearly the support for boosting the strength of the PSNI to 7,500 police officers will be at the heart of our aspiration to invest significantly in community policing across Northern Ireland in the months ahead.

"We welcome plans to reform and streamline our outdated criminal justice processes and also address the issue of legacy investigations which drain our focus on policing the issues of here and now."

Mr Byrne concluded, "A fresh emphasis on tacking the scourge of paramilitary crime and intimidation, supported by legislation to tackle unexplained wealth, sits four square with our operational priorities."

Additional reporting Gail Conway