03/12/2019

NI Nurses Begin Industrial Action

Nurses across Northern Ireland have commenced 24 hours of industrial action.

In response to unsafe staffing levels and the pay crisis, members of the Royal College of Nursing will refuse to do any task that isn't directly related to patient care.

The action is the first time in the union's 103-year history that members have voted to take action short of strike, which will be followed by two further days on Tuesday 10 and Wednesday 11 December.

The first day of strike action is scheduled for Wednesday 18 December.

Nurses and their union believe the staffing and pay crisis is putting them under intolerable pressure and threatening the quality of patient care.

There are 2,800 vacant nurse posts within the HSC and nurse pay has fallen by 15% in real terms in recent years.

Nurses in Northern Ireland are the lowest paid in the UK.

RCN Northern Ireland Director Pat Cullen said the action is regrettable.

"The last thing that any nurse wants is to have to take industrial action. However, nurses now feel that we have no choice. The RCN has been raising the issues of pay inequality and short staffing for many years, but nobody in the corridors of power has listened.

"Today, our members will be on duty as normal, providing direct patient care, but will work strictly to their contracts of employment. This means starting on time, finishing on time, taking contractual breaks and not performing the non-nursing duties that they should not be performing anyway.
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"This is a critical moment for the HSC, and we all wish to see a rapid and effective solution to the crisis that is now unfolding. Our members, the health service workforce, and the people of Northern Ireland deserve so much better."

It comes amid action by Unison members that has seen thousands of inpatient appointments cancelled this week.

RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair added: "For better or worse, nurses have earned a reputation for resilience and soldiering on. To hear they've reached their limit must make people sit up and take notice.

"The crisis in the health service in Northern Ireland has pushed members to reluctantly take a stand for themselves and their patients. They should take some comfort from knowing that I and every other nurse is standing with them. Every part of the RCN is pulling behind winning this dispute."

Responding to the recent strike action, the Chief Executive of the six Health and Social Care Trusts recognised there is a "significant risk to patient safety".

"We are all aware that HSC in Northern Ireland requires a long-term funding settlement that addresses service, workforce and pay pressures in a sustainable manner," the Chief Executive said. "We have been struggling with a system where funding has been made available on a yearly basis, which makes it impossible to plan for the long term. Demand is increasing and will continue to do so meaning that the current system is simply unsustainable."

The HSC trusts say a resolution is not possible without ministerial intervention and further resources.

NI Secretary Julian Smith said the matter is a devolved one. He commented on Twitter: "V concerned about strikes in NI health service today. In touch with health dept but as a devolved matter we need Stormont back to resolve."



(JG/CM)

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