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RCN begins strike action – more dates planned

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Northern Ireland today (Wednesday) begins a programme of strike action to demand urgent measures to address unsafe staffing levels and deliver pay parity with colleagues from across the UK.

RCN members working within Health and Social Care (HSC) services will be taking the action for the first time in the College’s 103 year history. In the HSC there are currently 2,800 vacant nursing posts and nurse pay has fallen by 15% in real terms in recent years. Nurses in Northern Ireland are the lowest paid in the UK.

Today (Wednesday), nursing staff from across Northern Ireland will join picket lines at 21 locations to demand that measures be taken to address the unsafe staffing levels and to deliver pay parity.

The beginning of the strike action follows three days of industrial action (short of strike action) which took place earlier in December. If no resolution is forthcoming, 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 life preserving services such as intensive care, palliative care and chemotherapy services.

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.”

Dame Donna Kinnair, 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.” 

In November, 96% of RCN members in Northern Ireland who returned their ballot papers voted to take industrial action short of a strike, with 92% voting for strike action. The ballot involved RCN members working under Agenda for Change terms and conditions within Health and Social Care (HSC) in Northern Ireland

Further, targeted strike action is planned on the dates 8, 10 January 2020

  • 20, 22, 24 January 2020
  • 10, 12, 14 February 2020
  • 2, 4, 6 March 2020