Nurses in Northern Ireland have still not received a pay award this year. Their colleagues in England, Scotland and Wales received a 1% increase from April 2017. Although the Northern Ireland Department of Health finally announced in December 2017 the implementation of this award, it has still not been paid. Once again, Northern Ireland is therefore isolated as the only UK country in which no pay award has been received for the current financial year.
This follows several years of pay restraint for nurses, including two years of a pay freeze and the 2014-2015 non-consolidated award, which meant that many nurses in Northern Ireland yet again received no cost of living pay increase.
At the moment, a typical health care assistant in Northern Ireland earns £17,776. Without the pay cap, they should be earning £19,909, a shortfall of £2,133 each year. A newly-qualified staff nurse here earns £21,909. Without the pay cap, they should be earning £25,195, a shortfall of £3,286 each year. An experienced staff nurse earns £28,462. Without the pay cap, they should be earning £32,731, a shortfall of £4,269 each year. A highly qualified and experienced specialist nurse earns £41,374. Without the pay cap, they should be earning £47,580, a shortfall of £6,206 each year.
Nurses in Northern Ireland are now at least 14% worse off in real terms than in 2010. They are seeing their standard of living fall, with no sign of light at the end of the tunnel. According to the most recent RCN Employment Survey, 40% of nurses in Northern Ireland say that they struggle to pay gas and electricity bills (compared with 34% in Wales, 29% in England and 27% in Scotland). 24% of Northern Ireland nurses struggle with childcare costs (compared with 12% in England and Wales and 11% in Scotland. Around one in five nurses has been forced to take a second job just to make ends meet. We are also hearing reports of nurses in Northern Ireland, and across the UK, accessing food banks. The failure to implement an award for 2017-2018 is intensifying the hardship felt by hard-working nursing staff and adding to the perception that the care they provide to the people of Northern Ireland is not valued.
It is also clear that the 14%+ real terms fall in nurses’ pay is having a negative impact upon recruitment and retention and, therefore, on staffing levels and patient care. The Northern Ireland Department of Health recently confirmed that there are currently 1,262 nursing vacancies in the HSC in Northern Ireland. The RCN estimates that there could be an equivalent number of vacancies in the independent (nursing home) sector. A recent RCN member survey in Northern Ireland confirmed that the two most significant priorities for nurses here are  safe staffing and  pay. Nurses believe that the cap on nursing pay is putting patient care at risk. It devalues nurses and nursing, means people are not joining the profession and many people are leaving. And because there are not enough nurses, patients often cannot get the care they need.