Thousands Of Nurses Begin Strike Action

Thousand of nurses in Northern Ireland are taking to the picket lines today as their fight for pay parity and safe staffing levels begins.

The Royal College of Nursing is taking action for the first time in its 103-year history, along with UNISON, UNITE and NIPSA members. Over 15,000 nurses expected to be on 21 picket lines across the region.

The strike action follows three days of industrial action, short of strike, which took place earlier in December. If there is no resolution, further strike days are planned in January, February and March 2020.

The dispute is primarily over pay parity with the rest of the UK and calls for measures to address unsafe staffing levels.

There are currently 2,800 vacant nursing posts in 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.

The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust said significant disruption can be expected throughout the day. The majority of inpatients with surgery scheduled are facing cancellations, with all daycare and endoscopy appointments also cancelled.

The majority of outpatient appointments have also been cancelled at the following hospitals:

• Belfast City Hospital

• Royal Victoria Hospital

• Children's Hospital

• Mater Hospital

• Musgrave Park Hospital.

The Trust said it has taken very step to ensure those impacted by service disruption have been notified.

UNISON regional secretary Patricia McKeown said ahead of the historic action: "Everyone with power and authority in this society has conceded that our cause is just. We have had 'sympathy' from the UK government through the Secretary of State, from all political parties that stood on our picket lines and from the leadership of the health service. But we have no resolution.

"UNISON has agreed emergency cover and our members have volunteered to provide it. We have never seen such determination in health workers who have been devalued and disrespected for almost 5 years. For 3 weeks they have stood up for their rights and have now put the health service at the top of the political agenda.

"Despite their sacrifice there is still no action from those in power. It would appear that health workers, patients and the public at large are being used as pawns in a political game.
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"As we enter this significant period in the industrial struggle the consequences lay firmly on the shoulders of the UK government, our elected politicians and the leadership of the civil service. The decision they take in the next few hours will have lasting consequences in our society either for good or for ill."

RCN chief executive & general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: "This is a moment every nurse wishes had never come, but faced with an abject failure to tackle unsafe staffing levels and severe pay inequality with colleagues in the rest of 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. It is about time the powers that be finally sit up and take 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."

RCN Northern Ireland director Pat Cullen added: "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.

"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."


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