The RCN in Northern Ireland presented evidence to the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee for Health on Thursday 18 June on a range of issues. Northern Ireland Board Chair, Fiona Devlin, Director, Pat Cullen and Associate Director, Rita Devlin were in attendance.
High on the agenda was the issue of safe staffing legislation. In her opening remarks Pat said: “If I could leave the Committee with only one message from today’s proceedings, it would be to highlight the urgent need to develop a timetable for the legislative requirement to ensure safe nurse staffing in Northern Ireland, a commitment that is included within the Minister’s safe staffing framework that was endorsed by the Executive in January.”
Pat also referred to comments made by the Health Minister that there can be no return to “business as usual” and that the challenge was to build a health and social care system that meets the needs of the people of Northern Ireland, rather than attempting to reconstruct the processes and ways of working that existed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said: “This will not be achieved without direct engagement with organisations such as ours that represent the health and social care workforce. Nor will the process of recovery be achieved without a renewed focus on the deep-rooted problems that existed prior to the pandemic, in particular safe staffing. We need to focus urgently on workforce planning for nursing, and this process must embrace both the HSC and the independent sector.”
Following questions from the committee on a range of issues, including the reimbursement of strike pay that has been promised by the Executive on two occasions, Pat added: “The most challenging time in my 35 years in nursing was to lead my colleagues onto picket lines and it will take a long time for nurses to get over that. Please don’t reward us with badges – we need a decent pay award and to feel valued.”
Other questions that were tabled included car parking and childcare. On the issue of childcare, Pat said that RCN members were concerned in particular regarding when schools would be reopened. She said that a phased return to school opening may lead to financial pressures and the possibility of nurses having to reduce hours, take a career break, or even leave nursing altogether.
Concluding the session, Colm Gildernew, Chair of the Committee gained the Committee’s support to write to the Department of Health for an update on its plans regarding safe staffing, strike pay, and support for childcare.
You can watch the RCNs’ evidence to the Health Committee here.