Strike action must always be an option for members, says RCN general secretary

Dame Donna Kinnair takes aim at politicians for forcing nurses to cope with workforce crisis

Dame Donna Kinnair takes aim at politicians for forcing nurses to cope with workforce crisis

RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair: ‘There’s a terrible culture of pushing
responsibility down to front-line professionals and away from the top.’ Picture: John Houlihan

The option for strike action must ‘always be on the table’ for members, RCN general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair told congress.

In a keynote speech that received a standing ovation, Professor Kinnair highlighted how the ‘public safety issues’ of staff shortages and low pay could push RCN Northern Ireland to ballot on industrial action.

Professor Kinnair said this was an approach she was not afraid to consider as the RCN prepares to enter fresh NHS pay negotiations next year.

‘If members want it’

‘If you the members want it, industrial action, strike action, must always be on the table,’ she said.

Professor Kinnair also took aim at politicians and employers for forcing nurses to cope with the consequences of the workforce crisis.

‘There is nothing worse for a healthcare professional than knowing you’ve made a mistake or weren’t able to give the best possible care,’ she said.

‘But there’s now a terrible culture of pushing responsibility and accountability down to the front-line professional and away from the very top, the bosses, the employers, the decision-makers, the ministers.

‘Congress, we have to stop the rot.’

Professor Kinnair addressing RCN congress. Picture: John Houlihan

Vacancies the ‘number one’ priority

Professor Kinnair said solving the nurse vacancy crisis was her ‘number one’ priority as general secretary.

‘We, you, will not stop until people are held to account for the desperate shortages each and every one of us has witnessed,’ she said.

In a nod to the departure of her predecessor amid the fallout from the communication of the pay deal in England last year, Professor Kinnair made a personal pledge on future pay and conditions negotiations.

‘I will take personal responsibility for any talks or formal negotiations we enter,’ she said. ‘No ifs, no buts, no caveats or qualifications.’

Professor Kinnair acknowledged the college had been through a ‘difficult time’ since last year’s congress in Belfast.

‘There were weaknesses in how the RCN carried out its trade union function in particular,’ she said. ‘Recommendations were made, and I commit us again to enacting every one of them.’

Stop letting Brexit dominate

Professor Kinnair’s comments on Brexit also proved popular with attendees. ‘No matter your view – and I respect each and every one of them – this country has got to raise the standard of its political debate,’ she said, to applause from the hall. ‘It’s been in the gutter for too long.’

She urged the UK’s politicians to resolve the Brexit drama and stop letting it dominate all other issues.

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