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Strike ballot: RCN names the date for industrial action vote in Northern Ireland

Low pay and nurse staffing levels have left members ‘angry and disillusioned’

Low pay and nurse staffing levels have left members ‘angry and disillusioned’


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Nurses in Northern Ireland's NHS are to vote on whether to take industrial action over pay.

College members will be balloted on industrial action 'up to and including strike action'. The ballot opens on 9 October, with the result expected on 7 November.

Nurses’ strike would be the first in RCN history

If the nurses go on strike, they would be the first to do so in their union's history.

NHS nurses in Northern Ireland have long borne the effects of staffing shortages and pay disparity in relation to the rest of the UK.

However, Northern Ireland's Department of Health warned if nurses' pay were to increase, the nursing student bursary could become unaffordable. 

Threat to the nursing student bursary

‘Full parity with England would mean the cessation of bursaries for NI student nurses,’ a department spokesperson said.

RCN Northern Ireland director Pat Cullen described the ballot announcement as a ‘sad day for nursing in Northern Ireland’.

‘The palpable sense of disillusionment and even anger among members over staffing and pay continues to grow,’ she said.

‘As a profession, we are no longer prepared to tolerate the risk that low staffing levels pose to patients, nursing staff, and the people of Northern Ireland.’

Fall in the value of nurses’ pay

The RCN says the value of nurses’ pay in Northern Ireland has fallen by 15% in real terms over the past eight years, and NHS pay continues to lag behind that of England, Scotland and Wales. A newly qualified nurse in Northern Ireland will earn £22,795, compared with £24,670 in Scotland, and £24,214 in England and Wales.

But the Department of Health spokesperson countered: ‘The RCN believes nursing vacancies are at crisis level in England – that would suggest English pay levels do not provide a solution.’ 

Pay parity – ‘spending money we do not have’

The spokesperson said the department was doing all that it could despite suspension of government, adding: ‘Pay parity is clearly a matter for ministers – officials have no power to address it. However, as we keep saying, we cannot spend money we do not have.’

The spokesperson also pointed to the number of registered nursing and midwifery staff being 4.7% higher than 2014 levels as evidence of the Department’s work on the issue.

There are almost 3,000 unfilled nursing posts across Northern Ireland’s health and social care system.

 

This story was updated on 20 September 2019 in light of comments from the Department of Health


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