The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Northern Ireland Board has today (29 July 2019) taken the unprecedented step to ballot RCN members working in the Health and Social Care Service (HSC) in Northern Ireland on industrial action, including strike action, regarding the nurse staffing crisis in Northern Ireland.
The announcement comes at a time when there are 2,600 unfilled nursing posts across the system, with a similar level of vacancies estimated in nursing homes. Nurses’ pay within the health service in Northern Ireland continues to fall behind England, Scotland and Wales. The real value of nurses’ pay in Northern Ireland has fallen by 15% over the last eight years, whilst the cost of securing nursing staff via nursing agencies has increased to an all-time high of £32 million in 2017-2018.
These factors have a direct impact upon the health and wellbeing of the people of Northern Ireland and the health and wellbeing of nursing staff, with long waiting lists and waiting times, difficulties in accessing services, and nurses so over-stretched that they are simply unable to provide the level of care to patients and their families that they want to provide. The RCN believes there is a link between recruitment and retention of nursing staff, cost-saving measures and low pay.
Fiona Devlin, Chair of the RCN Northern Ireland Board said: “The decision taken today is unprecedented in the history of the RCN. Members of the RCN Northern Ireland Board have been left with no option but to ballot RCN members in Northern Ireland as a result of the total inaction to address the staffing crisis facing health care in Northern Ireland. This situation is compounded by nurses in Northern Ireland being the lowest paid across the UK.”
RCN Northern Ireland Director Pat Cullen said: “No nurse in Northern Ireland wishes to take any form of industrial action. However, as a profession, we are no longer prepared to tolerate the risk to patients, nurses and the people of Northern Ireland.
“The RCN is putting immediate measures in place to make preparations to ballot members in the coming weeks.”