Nurses’ strike: NHS staff in Northern Ireland in 12-hour walkout
Nurse on picket line describes anguish of exhausted colleagues and their fears for patient care
Thousands of nurses staged a walkout today in a historic strike over pay and staffing.
The 12-hour strike from 8am by 9,000 RCN members in Northern Ireland is the first in the college’s 103-year history and an escalation of the ongoing dispute with the Department of Health (DoH).
An additional 6,500 Unison nurse members are also involved in a 24-hour strike action.
Emergency department coverage continues as some services are suspended
Routine medical appointments have been cancelled, minor injury units closed and there will be delays to some ambulance responses.
All emergency departments and cancer care services will be open as normal.
RCN Northern Ireland director, Pat Cullen, said: ‘Today, our members are making clear to those in power that they and their patients will not be ignored and this crisis be allowed to worsen.’
‘Nurses are not getting breaks and there’s tears when they go home, tears about what staff want to be able to do but can’t’
Joanne Stephenson, striking nurse
College general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair visited the picket lines in Belfast.
‘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 across the UK, our members in Northern Ireland are saying enough is enough,’ she said.
‘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.’
‘Nurses are at the end of their tether’
One nurse at the picket line today, Joanne Stephenson, said nurses in the NHS in Northern Ireland health were at the end of their tether.
‘They are working overtime, they are not getting breaks, they are not getting a chance to do what they want to do and they are going home and there's tears, there's real tears about what staff want to be able to do but can't do,’ she said.
What the nurses are demanding
Nurses in Northern Ireland are demanding pay parity with their colleagues in England and Wales. Newly qualified nurses in Northern Ireland earn £22,795, but their counterparts in England and Wales, start on £24,214.
Nurses are also calling for staffing levels to be addressed to fill the 2,800 nursing posts currently vacant in Northern Ireland.
Unison Northern Ireland regional secretary, Patricia McKeown, said she was seeing levels of determination and militancy among nurses she had never seen before, and that current pay levels were plunging them into poverty.
Health unions’ united front
Nurses from the RCN and Unison are joined in their walkout by colleagues in Unite and the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance.
Northern Ireland's DoH has previously said it lacks the authority or money to resolve the dispute. It has been running the health system without political back-up since the collapse of the devolved government at Stormont in January 2017.
Apology to patients and families
A spokesperson for NHS provider organisation Health and Social Care Northern Ireland, said: ‘We apologise for the distress this action will cause to everyone impacted, especially our patients, service users and their family members.’
RCN members will strike again on 8 January unless a deal is reached with employers.
In other news