For the first time in its 103-year history, the RCN is balloting members on industrial action up to and including strike action regarding the nurse staffing and pay crisis in Northern Ireland.
Members working in Health and Social Care (HSC) services in Northern Ireland will be sent voting papers by post from today (9 October) and have until 6 November to return these.
Pay for nursing staff within the health service in Northern Ireland continues to fall behind England, Scotland and Wales with the real value of nurses’ pay in Northern Ireland falling by 15% over the last eight years.
There are nearly 3,000 unfilled nursing posts across the system, with a similar level of vacancies estimated in nursing homes. The cost of securing nursing staff through nursing agencies has also increased year on year.
Pat Cullen, Director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, said: “Over the next four weeks we are asking nursing staff across Northern Ireland if they are willing to take industrial action, including strike action, over the unacceptable conditions that we currently face in health care in Northern Ireland.
“Our members have very clearly told us that enough is enough. No nurse wants to take industrial action or strike action but low staffing levels pose unacceptable risks to patients, nursing staff, and the people of Northern Ireland. We have simply been left with no choice.”
RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair added: “This is a day we hoped not to reach. But as we open the ballot with a heavy heart today, even more challenging times for our members lie ahead.
“Personally, they have suffered a decade of great unfairness and professionally they have seen the grave consequences for their patients. Their service has been undervalued and this continues as pay awards fall further behind other countries of the UK.
“It cannot be repeated enough that starving a country of enough nurses is a major risk to patient safety which the nurses of Northern Ireland will not stand by and let happen to their much-loved health service. Many months of negotiations failed to achieve a breakthrough and we take these measures to show the strength of feeling in the public and the nursing workforce. Their voices will not be ignored.”
The RCN is also asking the people of Northern Ireland to support nursing staff by signing a petition to demand safe staffing and pay equality.