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Industrial action is set to take place at the beginning of next month for nurses in Northern Ireland, following decisive vote results.
The Royal College of Nursing council met yesterday to confirm that action among its members across health and social care services will begin on 3 December.
“While no nurse wants to take this action, unfortunately we have been left with no choice”
The first two weeks will consist of industrial action, which will be followed by a strike day on 18 December.
This will be the college’s first-ever official strike in the UK since it formed more than a hundred years ago.
Pat Cullen, director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, said: “Nurses are very disappointed that there has been no further meaningful engagement with the Department of Health regarding the safe staffing and pay crisis that we are facing in Northern Ireland.
“RCN Council has now approved a schedule of industrial action and strike action. Regrettably this will begin before the Christmas period.”
The RCN said it was now putting plans in place to organise the action’s management and delivery.
Ms Cullen added: “While no nurse wants to take this action, unfortunately we have been left with no choice and we are now carrying out the instructions that our members have clearly voted for.”
The decision to take industrial action was made after overwhelming support from members was revealed in ballot results.
Of members asked, 96% voted in favour of industrial action and 92% supported strike action.
The poll asked RCN members who work under Agenda for Change terms and conditions in health and social services in Northern Ireland.
The Department of Health in Northern Ireland reiterated its previous statement: “The department remains focused on finding a way forward – in this context we are currently finalising a formal pay offer for 2019-20.
“As with any other item of expenditure, pay costs come out of the one health budget”
Department of Health
“This will be the best offer possible within the budget available, but the reality is that our ability to address pay issues is inevitably constrained at a time of intense budgetary pressures for health and social care services.
“Despite claims to the contrary, there is no separate or untapped source of funding that we can access – nor can money simply be found in the budget,” it said.
“As with any other item of expenditure, pay costs come out of the one health budget, which is currently over-committed. Every pound spent on one priority area is a pound not available for another.”
The ongoing dispute centres around health professionals in Northern Ireland being paid less than their counterparts in the rest of the UK.
According to fellow trade union Unison, a registered nurse in Scotland at the bottom of band 5 earns £24,670 a year and £24,214 for those in England and Wales, but nurses in Northern Ireland earn only £22,795 a year.
Unison’s members are set to take industrial action at the end of the month over the same issue.
The RCN defines industrial action, short of strike action, as:
- Not working overtime
- Not working unpaid hours
- Not completing paperwork other than individual patient records
- Not cleaning empty beds when a patient is discharged
- Not accompanying patients to tests and investigations unless required
- Not answering telephones at ward level
- No administrative tasks
- Not collecting prescriptions in the community
- Not collecting or delivering blood samples in the community
- Not attending meetings
- Not attending any regional or local meetings, conferences or non-mandatory training