Unsafe staffing and poor pay in the absence of a functioning government in Northern Ireland led to 9000 nurses from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) going on strike for the first time in the union’s 103-year history.
Another 6,500 nurses from the Unison union also joined pickets for the one-day strike on December 19. The striking nurses were undeterred by miserably cold weather, with driving wind and rain. It is believed to be the biggest industrial action of its kind ever in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland has the worst hospital waiting lists in the UK, according to figures from the Department of Health. And according to the RCN, nurses’ pay in Northern Ireland has fallen in real terms by 15 per cent over eight years. There is a shortage of about 2,800 nurses.
Northern Ireland nurses want pay parity with their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales who won a 6.5 per cent pay rise last year. But the pay rise did not apply to Northern Ireland because of the absence of devolved government.
“Northern Ireland hasn’t had a functioning government for almost three years. Patients and nurses need … health ministers to be appointed again to take charge of this crisis,” said Donna Kinnair, RCN general secretary.
“I hope this first-ever industrial action by RCN nurses will provide the shock politicians and health and social care management need to take action.”