Northern Ireland safe and effective care campaign

RCN members in Northern Ireland are currently undertaking a programme of industrial action in pursuit of safe and effective care for the people of Northern Ireland. This involves industrial action short of strike action, as well as strike action, to demand measures promoting safe nurse staffing and pay equality.

The programme of industrial action follows a recent ballot in which 96% of RCN members who returned their ballot papers voted to take industrial action and 92% voted to take strike action. The ballot involved RCN members working under Agenda for Change terms and conditions within the Health and Social Care service [HSC] in Northern Ireland.


The RCN has announced arrangements to take forward industrial action, including strike action, across HSC services in Northern Ireland. You can find out more here.

Following the first day of industrial action on Tuesday 3 December 2019, the Executive Oversight Committee (which is chaired by RCN Northern Ireland Board Chair Fiona Devlin) met to assess how the industrial action proceeded and to refine arrangements in advance of the next scheduled industrial action on Tuesday and Wednesday 10 and 11 December 2019.

RCN Northern Ireland Director Pat Cullen said: “The last thing that any nurse wants is to have to take industrial action. However, as we have stated on many occasions in recent weeks and months, nurses now feel that we have no choice. This was demonstrated clearly in our recent ballot. With around 2,800 vacant nursing posts in the system, record levels of expenditure on agency staff to try to plug the gaps, and nurses’ pay continuing to fall further and further behind the rest of the UK, nurses have had enough. The RCN has been raising these issues for many years, but nobody in the corridors of power has listened.


You can find guidance on industrial action and strike action here. Also a short fact sheet on the issues leading to industrial action is available here.


There are currently 2,790 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 and 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 £52million in 2018-2019. 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 as well as 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.


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."


You can read the RCN's announcement of the ballot results here.


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Northern Ireland safe and effective care campaign background

Find out more about the main areas we are focusing on as part of our campaign activity


Keep up to date with all the latest news from the RCN in Northern Ireland

Page last updated - 09/12/2019