Strike action: NHS nurses in Northern Ireland stage second 12-hour walkout

One nurse says staff are ‘at the point of complete burnout’

One nurse says staff are ‘at the point of complete burnout’

Community nurse Karen Bowes, older people’s nurse Karen Rees and renal nurse Jayne Bell join the picket line at Ulster Hospital. Picture: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Thousands of nurses are striking in Northern Ireland today over conditions that one nurse has described as ‘the worst experience’ of her 25 years in the profession.

RCN members staged their second 12-hour walkout today as part of an ongoing dispute with the Department of Health (DoH) over pay parity and safe staffing. 

It follows a strike on 18 December, which was the first in the college’s 103-year history.

Nurse highlights understaffing within teams

Belfast-based community nurse Karen Bowes told Nursing Standard she had never seen services so understaffed.

‘Teams are at about 40-50% capacity and most vacancies are unfilled rather than empty through sick leave or maternity leave,’ she said.

‘I have been nursing for 25 years and this past year has been the worst experience of my whole career.’

Ms Bowes added that staff are working far beyond their paid hours by starting early, working through lunch breaks and going home late to provide care to patients.

‘Everybody is devastated it has come to this’

Ulster Hospital anaesthetic nurse Lyndsay Thomson, who is also an RCN rep, said: ‘Nurses are at the point of complete burnout, [they are] crying because they don’t feel it is safe for patients, and I am concerned for nurses’ mental health. 

‘I am dealing with an increased number of staff on sick leave with work-related stress. Everybody is devastated it has come to this [strike action], but the public have been so supportive.’

A third walkout of RCN and Unison nurse members is planned for Friday.

This will include Unison nursing staff from Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Western Health and Social Care Trust, and South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust.

Government wants to reopen discussion with nurses

Yesterday, the DoH urged the unions to return to talks.

DoH permanent secretary Richard Pengelly said: ‘It’s still not too late for trade unions to defer the industrial action planned for this week and get back round the table.’

However, he ruled out any discussion on pay, which is a central issue for Northern Ireland’s nurses. 

Newly qualified nurses in Northern Ireland earn £22,795, but their counterparts in England and Wales start on £24,214.

RCN says staff’s needs are transparent

RCN Northern Ireland director Pat Cullen said: ‘Nurses could not have been clearer over the past few months in relation to our demands for safe staffing and restoring pay parity with the rest of the UK.’ 

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