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Last December, RCN Northern Ireland (RCN NI) embarked on a social media campaign to lobby the health minister to implement a pay award for Northern Ireland nurses, called #fairpay4NInurses.

Last December, RCN Northern Ireland (RCN NI) embarked on a social media campaign to lobby the health minister to implement a pay award for Northern Ireland nurses, called #fairpay4NInurses.

While decisions about pay had been made for the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland’s health minister Simon Hamilton was yet to decide whether nurses should receive pay rises, and Northern Ireland’s RCN board voted to ballot members for industrial action short of strike.

The RCN sent a letter to every member of the legislative assembly (MLA) in Northern Ireland to ask if they supported a fair pay deal for nurses. Over the 12 days of Christmas, RCN NI published the names of those who had declared their support.

The Twitter group @EmergNursesNI, a community of nurses, healthcare support workers and other emergency care professionals in Northern Ireland, were involved in the #fairpay4NInurses campaign, and ensured that emergency nurses were kept up to date.

The campaign involved emergency nurses across Northern Ireland posting pictures of themselves and colleagues holding signs displaying #fairpay4NInurses to Facebook and Twitter. Politicians were tagged in the posts and asked to support the campaign. With an election coming in May, emergency nurses are aware that politicians rely on nurses’ votes, and those of their friends and families.

When social media lobbying began, there was some caution among emergency nurses but, as the campaign gathered momentum, it became evident how powerful a lobbying tool social media can be, and the strength of emergency nurses’ voice became clear.

Public support

Some politicians tweeted their support for emergency nurses, and there was a media buzz about the campaign, with nurses quoted in various newspaper articles.

After negotiations with RCN NI, Mr Hamilton last month asked the National Pay Review body to make a recommended pay award for 2016/17 for Northern Ireland nurses, which he has promised to implement in full. This is as an enormous win for Northern Ireland nurses, and provides a lesson for emergency nurses: together we have a powerful voice, and social media can be an excellent means for getting our voice heard.

As the election campaign in Northern Ireland gears up over the next few weeks, politicians appear to have realised that we are a force to be reckoned with.

@EmergNursesNI will lobby politicians to listen to the concerns of emergency nurses, and we expect them to engage in discussions and help find solutions to the problems facing emergency departments across the region.

About the author

Roisin Devlin is steering committee member and co-founder of the RCN Emergency Care Association Emergency Nurses NI.

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