Members of the Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland expected a minimum 3% pay uplift for 2018-2019 for all staff employed by the HSC on Agenda for Change for change contracts, in order to keep pace with staff in the other countries of the UK. In partnership with the other health trade unions in Northern Ireland, this was put to the Department of Health and HSC employers in a formal proposal on 26 September 2018.
The pay award for 2018-2019 imposed by the Department of Health in December 2018 falls significantly short of this 3% minimum proposal. A significant number of nurses will receive a 1.5% pay uplift, equating to between £7.50 and £8.50 per week. Furthermore, it denies many nurses and other staff the incremental pay progression to which they are contractually entitled.
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.
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 confirmed that there were 2,325 nursing vacancies in the HSC in Northern Ireland as at 30 September 2018. The current figure is likely to be higher. 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 inadequate 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.