NI Nurses Strike Over Pay and Patient Safety

Nicky Broyd

December 18, 2019

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members in Northern Ireland (NI) are on strike today protesting about poor pay and patient safety.

It's the first all-out strike in the RCN's 103-year history - although nursing staff continue to work in life-preserving services like A&E and intensive care.

Pat Cullen, RCN Northern Ireland director 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 elsewhere in the UK."

Pay Inequality

The RCN says nurses' pay within the health service in Northern Ireland is lower than in England, Scotland, and Wales, and in the last 8 years the real value has fallen by 15%.

At the same time it says the cost of nursing agency staff is at an all-time high of £52 million in 2018-2019.

Vacancies 

The RCN says there are around 2800 unfilled nursing posts in NI with a similar level of vacancies estimated in nursing homes, and it's having a direct impact on the wellbeing of nursing staff and patients.

It believes there is a link between recruitment and retention of nursing staff, cost-saving measures, and low pay.

Fractured System

RCN members aren't the only health professionals in NI unhappy with the status quo. Recently seven other organisations representing thousands of health professionals in NI, including GPs and surgeons, issued a joint statement calling on politicians to get the devolved institutions, like health, up and running again.

The power sharing government at Stormont has not operated since January 2017. It has meant civil servants have kept things 'ticking over' but there have been no politicians to make decisions.

The British Medical Association, Royal College of Emergency Medicine NI, Royal College of Surgeons of England, Royal College of General Practitioners (NI), Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Psychiatrists NI, the Royal College of Radiologists UK and the Northern Irish Board of the Royal College of Anaesthetists said in the joint statement that problems in the healthcare system have been building for some time:

"Political inactivity over the last 3 years has contributed to this crisis. Although it is not the sole cause, the lack of an accountable health minister has resulted in decisions being deferred, blame passed around and sustainable transformation put on the back foot.

"As organisations representing the medical and nursing community here in Northern Ireland we see the reality of this fractured system every day and watch patients suffer. As a society we must do better.

"We urge political parties across Northern Ireland to put patients first; break the stalemate, restore our government and transform our health service without further delay."

Future Action by Nurses and Midwives

If there is no resolution the RCN has further strike days planned in January, February, and March 2020.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) will be balloting its members in Northern Ireland in January on industrial action up to and including strike action.

Midwives in NI currently earn less than those in the rest of the UK. 

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