Nursing union launches unprecedented ballot for strike action
Nurses in Northern Ireland are being balloted on strike action for the first time over "unacceptable" working conditions.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has today begun balloting its members on potential industrial action - the first such vote in the union's 103-year history.
Voting papers have been posted to RCN members working in health and social care services across the north.
The ballot, which will last for four weeks, is asking nurses if they are willing to take industrial action, including going on strike.
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Pat Cullen, Director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, said nurses in the north are facing "unacceptable conditions" which pose a risk to patients.
RCN said there were nearly 3,000 unfilled nursing posts across the system, with a similar level of vacancies estimated in nursing homes.
The union said that pay for nursing staff within the health service has continued to fall behind England, Scotland and Wales.
"Nurses can go anywhere to work and we fear that, unless this situation is resolved quickly, it will only get worse as our newly-qualified nurses choose to practise elsewhere in the UK and beyond," Ms Cullen said.
"Our members have very clearly told us that enough is enough. No nurse wants to take industrial action or strike action but low staffing levels pose unacceptable risks to patients, nursing staff, and the people of Northern Ireland. We have simply been left with no choice.”
Chief Executive and General Secretary of the RCN, Dame Donna Kinnair, said the union began the ballot "with a heavy heart".
“It cannot be repeated enough that starving a country of enough nurses is a major risk to patient safety which the nurses of Northern Ireland will not stand by and let happen to their much-loved health service," she said.
"Many months of negotiations failed to achieve a breakthrough and we take these measures to show the strength of feeling in the public and the nursing workforce. Their voices will not be ignored.”