Strike action by nurses in Northern Ireland has been suspended, health unions have announced today (16 January).
Scheduled walkouts were called off following talks with the Department of Health, which offered additional funding to restore pay parity and promises on safe staffing levels.
Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members have called off strikes due to take place on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday next week. Unison has also agreed to suspend industrial action.
Both the RCN and Unison have said they have suspended strike action pending consultation with members in Northern Ireland on the agreement with the Department of Health.
On Tuesday (14 January), unions had ‘positive’ talks with health minister Robin Swann, who offered £30 million to restore pay parity between nurses in Northern Ireland and nurses in England and Wales.
He also pledged to ‘work urgently’ with unions to produce a ‘costed implemented’ workforce plan within an agreed short period.
The meeting was made possible because Stormont’s political institutions were restored at the weekend after the collapse of a coalition between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party in 2017.
RCN Northern Ireland director Pat Cullen said it has been ‘a long and difficult road for nurses in Northern Ireland’ since industrial action began in November.
RCN members ‘finally have something concrete to consider in relation to pay parity and safe staffing,’ she added.
She continued: ‘This is testament to having political leadership in place. On behalf of our members, we would like to thank health minister Robin Swann for taking seriously the concerns of nursing staff and for having the willingness to listen and take meaningful action. We know this action was also backed by our first and deputy first ministers.’
Mr Swann said: ‘This has been a very difficult time but I believe everyone across the health and social care system can now move forward together.
‘Today’s announcements will be welcomed by many – not least by patients and of course staff who took industrial action with a very heavy heart.’
But there is ‘still a lot of work to be done,’ he added.