Northern Ireland nursing staff working within health and social care (HSC) organisations, who are members of the trade union Royal College of Nursing (RCN), are undertaking strike action today (18 December 2019).
Nurses and nursing assistants are protesting over being paid less than their counterparts in England, Wales and Scotland, creating picket lines in 21 locations across the country to demand pay parity as well as address unsafe staffing levels. Staff based in life-preserving areas such as intensive care, palliative care and chemotherapy services, will continue to work.
RCN has stated that cost saving measures have resulted in fewer nursing positions, a reduction in student nurses and recruitment freezes, resulting in a reliance on bank or agency staff to cover the 2,800 vacant nursing and nursing assistant positions. Nurses have also raised concerns over the safety of patients due to under-staffing.
Today’s strike action follows three days of industrial action, which took place on 3,10 and 11 December 2019. Recent talks between the HSC trusts, the Department of health and the trade unions have not made any significant progress.
Further industrial action, in the result that no progress is made, has been planned for January, February and March 2020.
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary at RCN, said: “This is a moment every nurse wishes had never come, but faced with an abject failure to tackle unsafe staffing levels and severe pay inequality with colleagues in the rest of the UK, our members in Northern Ireland are saying enough is enough.
“Nurses are taking a stand for their patients, and also for their colleagues. It is about time the powers that be finally sit up and take notice because the crisis in the HSC cannot be allowed to continue.”
Pat Cullen Northern Ireland director at RCN, added: “Patient care is being compromised by unsafe staffing levels, and nurses’ pay has been left to dwindle and fall behind that of colleagues elsewhere in the UK.
“When 92% of those balloted said they would take strike action to protect patients last month, it should have kick-started the Department of Health into finding a solution, but it hasn’t.
“With around 2,800 vacant nursing posts in the HSC, record levels of money being spent on agency staff to plug gaps and nurses’ pay sliding further and further behind the rest of the UK, our members have had enough.
“The future of the HSC is now at a crossroads and we all wish to see a rapid solution to the patient safety crisis and the stark pay inequalities between those in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. However, this will not be secured by trying to blame nurses for the consequences of the decisions made by those in power. Our members, the health service workforce, and the people of Northern Ireland deserve so much better.”
A spokesperson for the HSC organisations said: “Patient and service user safety is of the utmost importance to us. Regrettably, as a result of the widespread nature of the strike, numerous appointments and treatments have been cancelled and many services across our hospitals and the community care sector have had to be stood down or reduced.
“All [HSC] organisations will continue to work alongside the unions to safeguard urgent and time critical care and to mitigate the effects of the disruption.”