The strikes took place against a backdrop of almost 2,800 vacant nursing posts within Health and Social Care (HSC) services in Northern Ireland and with nursing pay having fallen by 15% in real terms. Nursing staff there were the lowest paid in the UK.
Since the strike – the first in the RCN’s 104-year history – pay has increased and the number of nursing students in Northern Ireland has risen, but legislation ensuring safe staffing levels is yet to progress.
RCN Northern Ireland Director Pat Cullen said: “Our members, who took this historic action last year, were left with little choice.
“While we have seen the commitment to increased numbers of pre-registration nursing students being fulfilled, we have yet to see meaningful progress in relation to safe nurse staffing legislation. This was a key point of the agreement that led nursing staff to suspend strike action and cannot be compromised on.”
2020 has been a year like no other, but many of the pressures that already existed for nursing staff in Northern Ireland have been highlighted throughout the pandemic.
“It is not just the case that we have struggled because of the impact of COVID-19. Because we started out in a worse position, it has made it even more difficult to deal with.
“We need to do something drastic to keep our experienced nursing staff in the profession and make people want to join. This will only be achieved if we manage to get a fair pay deal for nursing. Right across the UK, we’re seeing nursing staff burnt out and leaving. If the pandemic has shown us one thing, it’s that this needs to change.”