Nurses in Northern Ireland will go on strike over staffing and pay in December after nurses voted overwhelmingly to strike in a Royal College of Nursing (RCN) ballot last week.
The union said walkouts would begin on the 18 December, representing the first strikes in the RCN’s history.
Industrial action on the 3, 10 and 11 of December will also see nurses decline to do non-patient-specific tasks, including administrative tasks, paperwork and answering telephones.
The announcement comes amid an ongoing dispute around pay and workforce levels for nurses working under Agenda for Change terms and conditions within Health and Social care in Northern Ireland.
The RCN has said there are nearly 3,000 unfilled nursing posts across the system with a similar level of vacancies estimated in nursing homes. The cost of securing nursing staff through nursing agencies has also increased year on year.
Nurses’ pay also continues to fall behind England, Scotland and Wales, the RCN said.
Of those who returned their ballot papers in the RCN vote that took place earlier this week, 96% voted to take industrial action and 92% voted to take strike action.
Pat Cullen, Director of the RCN in Northern Ireland said: ‘Nurses are very disappointed that there has been no further meaningful engagement with the Department of Health regarding the safe staffing and pay crisis that we are facing in Northern Ireland.
‘RCN Council has now approved a schedule of industrial action and strike action. Regrettably, this will begin before the Christmas period. The first two weeks of action will be industrial action followed by our first day of strike on 18 December. We are now putting plans in place to determine how this will be managed and delivered.
‘While no nurse wants to take this action, unfortunately we have been left with no choice and we are now carrying out the instructions that our members have clearly voted for. We will have further details on the impact this will have upon services closer to the time.’
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: ‘The Department remains focussed on finding a way forward – in this context we are currently finalising a formal pay offer for 2019/20.
‘This will be the best offer possible within the budget available, but the reality is that our ability to address pay issues is inevitably constrained at a time of intense budgetary pressures for health and social care services. These budgetary pressures are clear for all to see, and we have been highlighting these for some considerable time.
‘Despite claims to the contrary, there is no separate or untapped source of funding that we can access – nor can money simply be found in the budget. As with any other item of expenditure, pay costs come out of the one health budget, which is currently overcommitted. Every pound spent on one priority area is a pound not available for another.’