Nurses in Northern Ireland are walking over staffing and pay today after they voted overwhelmingly to strike in a Royal College of Nursing (RCN) ballot last week.
The RCN members, who are taking strike action for the first time in the College’s 103-year history, have joined picket lines as 21 locations.
They are demanding that measures are taken to address unsafe staffing levels and deliver pay parity. Nurses in Northern Ireland the lowest paid in the UK.
There are currently 2,800 vacant nursing posts and nurse pay has fallen by 15% in real terms in recent years within Northern Ireland Health and Social Care services.
The beginning of the strike action follows three days of industrial action, which took place earlier in December.
If no resolution emerges, further strike days are planned in January, February and March of 2020.
Some areas during the strike will be derogated meaning nursing staff will continue to work to support lservices such as intensive care, palliative care and chemotherapy services.
Dame Donna, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: ‘This is a moment that every nurse wishes had never come, but faced with an abject failure to tackle unsafe staffing levels and severe pay inequality with colleagues from across 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, and it is about time that the powers that be finally sat up and took notice because the crisis in the HSC cannot be allowed to continue.
‘To every one of our members in Northern Ireland taking this stand, I want you to know that the RCN, and its entire membership, are right behind you.’
RCN Northern Ireland Director Pat Cullen, said: ‘Our members, who are taking this historic action have been left with little choice.
‘Patient care is being compromised by unsafe staffing levels and nurses’ pay has been left to dwindle and fall behind that of colleagues from across 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 concerns of nurses were raised again and again over a number of years, but this has continued to fall on deaf ears.
‘Today, our members in Northern Ireland are making clear to those in power that they and their patients will not be ignored and this crisis allowed to worsen.
‘To patients we say that this is action that we hoped we would never have to take, and our members have committed to ensuring essential life-preserving services are not affected.
‘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.’