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Free to view: Tomorrow, nursing history opens a new page. Never before in the Royal College of Nursing’s 103 years have members voted to take industrial action – but the crisis in the health service in Northern Ireland has pushed members to reluctantly take a stand for themselves and their patients.
They should take some comfort from knowing that I and every other nurse is standing with them tomorrow. I’ll be joining them in person before Christmas and making clear that every part of the RCN is pulling behind winning this dispute.
“The journey towards true pay parity and safer patient care remains an arduous one”
The journey towards true pay parity and safer patient care remains an arduous one.
For better or worse, nurses have earned a reputation for resilience and soldiering on. To hear they’ve reached their limit must make people sit up and take notice.
When they begin industrial action this week, it will not be a strike – they are still at work and doing every part of their job. It’s the extra bits – done out of sheer goodwill – that they’ll stop for a day. No unpaid hours; no answering ward telephones; no collecting prescriptions or blood samples to lend a hand; no portering.
This is only way to deliver the message that 96 per cent of balloted members in Northern Ireland opted to send.
Why are we doing this? Our members have been served a double injustice – worsening conditions for their patients while at work and personal pay packets that fall further and further behind colleagues across the UK. If somebody asks why we’re you’re taking this stand, ask them simply whether they think this is fair for patients or highly skilled professionals.
Industrial action short of a strike is set to continue on 10 and 11 December unless the Department of Health realises that the 2,800 vacant positions within the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Service is detrimental and is putting enormous pressure on the nurses in the service – only decisive action on their part can change the course of events because strike action commences the week before Christmas.
The truth is that while nurses in Northern Ireland work under the same NHS banner as their colleagues across the water, their pay has been hampered for several years. It is grossly unfair, leaves nurses wondering how valued they really are and leaves patients in places without enough nurses to provide safe care.
“Voting for industrial action isn’t done lightly. All other avenues were explored first”
Rather than positively engage with the college in Northern Ireland, some trusts have cynically cancelled outpatient appointments this week. Patients will see through this attempt to scapegoat nurses, and hugely value their role. If a service can’t operate without nurses routinely working beyond their paid hours, then it is not working.
Members across the UK have been asking how they can show their support for nurses in Northern Ireland – follow updates in nursing journals like this one, please discuss it at branch meetings and be active and vocal on social media.
Voting for industrial action isn’t done lightly. All other avenues were explored first. Nobody is relishing this dispute – I can’t emphasise that enough. But nurses in Northern Ireland won’t carry this burden alone.
We are one college with good reason – what’s good for nurses in Newcastle-upon-Tyne is good for nurses in Newcastle, Co Down, and with our collective voice of half a million members, we’ll show the full force of our might.
Dame Donna Kinnair is chief executive and general secretary, Royal College of Nursing