Nurses in North vote to go on strike for first time in 103 years

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Northern Ireland has voted to go on strike for the first time in the union's 103 history.

The nurses are striking over pay and staffing levels.

Altnagelvin Hospital, Derry.

Altnagelvin Hospital, Derry.

Ninety-six per cent of nurses balloted voted in favour of industrial whilst 92 per cent voted for strike action.

The ballot involved RCN members working under Agenda for Change terms and conditions within Health and Social Care [HSC] in Northern Ireland.

The RCN UK Council will meet early next week to approve plans to take forward industrial action, including strike action, across HSC services in Northern Ireland.

RCN Northern Ireland Director Pat Cullen said staffing levels have put nurses in Northern Ireland under "enormous pressure".

“Today, nurses in Northern Ireland have spoken clearly and collectively on behalf of patients and the people of Northern Ireland.

"Nurses are no longer willing to see patients being denied the health care services to which they are entitled.

"The 3,000 nursing vacancies that currently exist within the HSC are having a detrimental impact upon patient care and adding enormous pressure to the existing nursing workforce, who are doing everything they can to care for patients."

Mr. Cullen added: “Nurses’ pay in Northern Ireland has fallen significantly behind the rest of the UK.

"Not only is this completely unfair but it sends a strong message to nurses that they are not valued or respected by decision-makers and employers.

"Equally importantly, it makes it difficult to recruit and retain the nurses that we desperately need to provide health care to the people of Northern Ireland.

"If we continue to treat nurses in this way, the health and social care system in Northern Ireland will move rapidly from crisis to collapse.”

SDLP health spokesperson, Mark H Durkan said he supported the decision.

“This strike is unprecedented in the history of the union and only serves to reinforce the severity of this situation.

"Our nurses are at breaking point.

"This action is clearly a last resort for RCN and the nurses they represent but their attempts to negotiate have been exhausted."

Mr. Durkan added: “It is unforgivable that successive health ministers failed to heed warning after warning.

"This is where political stagnation and a poor handling of workforce planning has led us.

"Our workforce is no longer at breaking point but broken.

"I have demanded action on numerous occasions regarding the nurses’ pay crisis and unsustainable agency spending.

“Our health service is operating under a 12% shortfall in the workforce - including 3000 unfilled nursing posts. This shortfall has exacerbated existing issues including lengthy waiting lists, difficulties accessing services and chronic absence of a medical school in Derry."