Nurses in Northern Ireland face prospect of industrial action ballot over pay

Unions are in talks to bring NHS salaries in line with those in the rest of the UK

Unions are in talks to bring NHS salaries in line with those in the rest of the UK

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'Exploited' and 'devalued' nurses in Northern Ireland could be voting for industrial action by the end of this month if pay talks fail.

Health unions are in talks with government officials and are asking for NHS staff to have pay parity with their counterparts in Scotland, where health service salaries are the highest in the UK.

Rise in nurse vacancies

The talks come as figures out this week reveal a rise in nurse vacancies in Northern Ireland, where NHS pay is lower than anywhere else in the UK, even after a small pay increase in February. 

There were 2,161 vacancies in March 2019, a rise of 21% on 2018 when the figure was 1,784 – and this was up from 1,262 in March 2017.

Pat Cullen, RCN Northern Ireland

Against this backdrop, RCN Northern Ireland director Pat Cullen believes the pay negotiations are 'more than likely' to fail.

‘We are moving to a position at the end of June – the end of the current round of talks – where we will more than likely be in a position where we will have to ballot our members for industrial action and/or strike,’ she said.

‘Nurses feel exploited and can take no more,’ she added. ‘They are working in a crisis situation day-on-day, and it cannot continue like this.’

Prepared to move for better pay

Ms Cullen added the pay gap has left Northern Ireland’s nurses feeling devalued and they were voting with their feet.

‘Why would they be paid less for doing the same job as a nurse in Manchester, Cardiff, or Aberdeen?’ she said, ‘They are are deciding to go to places where they are going to get paid the same as their counterparts.’

The RCN is joined in the pay talks by Unison, Unite and the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance.

A Department of Health spokesperson said they were ‘concerned’ about the rise of nurse vacancies, but added it was a global problem.

‘This is not an issue unique to Northern Ireland and reflects the fact that demand for health and social care far outstrips supply,’ they said.

‘Indeed, the number of vacancies has continued to increase even though there are now about 690 more whole time equivalent staff than 5 years ago (an increase of 4.7%) and over 1,400 more staff than 10 years ago.’

The spokesperson added that the Department was working to address the issue, including boosting the number of pre-registration nursing and midwifery training places it commissioned from universities to a record high of 935 in 2019/20.

On nurse pay, the spokesperson said the Department remained committed to engagement with trade unions on the issue.

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Northern Ireland health and social care (HSC) workforce vacancies March 2019

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