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. An RCN campaign leaflet, setting out the growing inequalities in pay for Northern Ireland nurses compared with colleagues in the rest of the UK as from 1 April 2019, can be downloaded here.
These factors have a direct impact upon the health and well-being of the people of Northern Ireland and the health and well-being 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.
Board Chair Fiona Devlin said: “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.”
On 10 April 2019, the RCN UK Council approved a request from the RCN Northern Ireland Board to ballot members employed within the HSC on industrial action, including strike action. During May 2019, the RCN held a successful of public meetings across Northern Ireland to explain to the people of Northern Ireland the RCN’s priorities on pay and safe staffing. Discussions on a pay award for 2019-2020 are currently taking place between the RCN and the other health trade unions, the Department of Health and employers.
Full details of the ballot and associated arrangements will be communicated as soon as possible.