Nurses in Northern Ireland have voted to accept safe staffing and pay parity proposals from the Department of Health.
Health minister Robin Swann promised additional funding after months of industrial action that saw Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members strike for the first time in the College’s 103-year history.
The offer of £30 million to restore pay parity between nurses in Northern Ireland and nurses in England and Wales was accepted by the RCN, Royal College of Midwives, Unison and Unite yesterday (24 February). Currently, nurses in Northern Ireland are the lowest paid in the UK.
Mr Swann also pledged to ‘work urgently’ with unions around introducing safe staffing legislation.
Commenting on the news, director of the RCN in Northern Ireland Pat Cullen cautioned that all agreed measures must be ‘implemented in full’.
She continued: ‘Safe staffing was the central part of our dispute and for the sake of those who use the service, and those who work in it, we must get this right.
‘We recognise that it may take some time to resolve this crisis but the sooner we begin, the sooner this will happen, and we cannot afford to wait one more day.
‘The minister has shown his full commitment in endorsing these proposals and we now need to see them delivered.
‘In particular, work must start as a matter of urgency on safe nurse staffing legislation which will ensure that we never find ourselves in this position again. Scotland and Wales have already implemented legislation and Northern Ireland needs to be next.’
RCN chief executive and general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: ‘Today’s endorsement of this deal by members in Northern Ireland is further proof that those who fought hard in December and January were speaking for the majority.
‘A great deal of hard work will now be needed by all sides to make the new proposals a reality, and we will be holding health service leaders to account to ensure that the pledges on staffing levels are kept.
‘Taking industrial action and going on strike was an extremely difficult decision for nurses, but shows that when we stand together, we can bring about real change for the better.’
Meanwhile, Mr Swann has welcomed the announcement by trade unions.
He said: ‘My first objective on taking up the post of Health Minister was to secure a resolution to the industrial action and I am delighted that this has now been achieved.
‘This was made possible through important pay and staffing commitments which I was able to make with Executive-wide backing and I am grateful to my colleagues around the Executive table for this vital support.’