Nurses begin industrial action over NHS pay in Northern Ireland

RCN members work to rule, but their protest is scheduled to escalate to full strike

RCN members work to rule, but their protest is scheduled to escalate to full strike

Part of working to rule means the nurses are taking proper breaks  Picture: Neil O'Connor

Thousands of nurses are taking their breaks, starting and finishing on time, and leaving non-patient specific tasks undone today.

This is the first of three days of industrial action by RCN members in Northern Ireland over pay and conditions in the NHS.

A nurses’ strike would be the first in RCN history

The action will culminate in a 12-hour strike on 18 December, the first such action in the RCN’s 103-year history, if an agreement is not reached with employers.

The college members are joining nurse and non-nursing colleagues in Unison, who have been working to rule since 25 November. 

NHS nurses in Northern Ireland are the lowest-paid in the health service, with a newly qualified nurses earning £22,795, while counterparts in England and Wales start on £24,214.

High nurse vacancy rates and pay gap with the rest of the UK

RCN Northern Ireland director Pat Cullen said with 2,800 nurse vacancies, record levels of expenditure on agency staff and pay falling behind rest of UK, members felt they had to take industrial action.

'Today, our members will be on duty as normal, providing direct patient care, but will work strictly to their contracts of employment,’ she said.

'This means starting on time, finishing on time, taking contractual breaks and not performing the non-nursing duties they should not be performing anyway.

What the nurses are refusing to do

  • Work bank, overtime or unpaid hours
  • Complete paperwork, or administrative tasks, other than completing individual patient records
  • Answer ward telephones and attend bed management or similar meetings
  • Prepare or clean beds when a patient is discharged
  • Collect prescriptions, pharmacy or blood samples in the community


The action nurses are taking is ‘distressing’

The Northern Ireland Department of Health – which has run without ministerial leadership since the collapse of the Stormont government in 2017 – described the effect on services as distressing.

A department statement said: 'As we have been saying for some time, we simply don't have the money or authority to resolve this impasse, and we strongly believe patients should not be the ones to suffer because of that.’ 

Ms Cullen said 'attempting to blame nurses' was 'outrageous'.

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