Northern Ireland news

Biggest nursing union to ballot its members on strike action

Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland, said workforce shortages have hit a record high
Seanín Graham

THE biggest nursing trade union in Northern Ireland is taking the unprecedented step of balloting its members for industrial action over a pay dispute and unsafe staffing levels.

Strike action will be among the measures considered by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) for the first time in its history after the move was backed by its main governing body in London yesterday.

The number of unfilled jobs in the nursing workforce across the north has hit a record high - with more than 2,500 posts lying empty, while sickness rates are up to 12 per cent.

Major concerns about a pay gap between nurses in Northern Ireland and their NHS counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales have also been repeatedly raised with government.

The decision comes just two months after 37,000 nurses and midwives in the Republic staged a series of strike days over the same issues, a development which severely impacted on hospital and community services.

Janice Smyth, RCN director, said the massive levels of short-staffing had led to spiralling bills for agency nurses, with £32 million charged to health trusts last year.

And she warned that the impact of a depleted workforce would have catastrophic consequences for patients and staff.

"This will result in long waiting lists and waiting times, difficulties in accessing services, and nurses so over-stretched that they are simply unable to provide the level of care to patients and their families that they are trained to provide and want to provide. The RCN believes there is a link between nursing shortages, cost-saving measures and low pay."

The union is holding a number of meetings across the north to inform the public about the crisis.

The events will take place during the weeks of May 6 and May 13 across each health trust area.

Ms Smthy added: "The health service is short of 2,103 registered nurses and a further 421 nursing assistants, around 12 per cent of the total workforce.

"It is time to explain to people why nursing services are now at crisis point, how this situation has developed, and seek their support for the measures that the RCN believes are necessary to resolve this crisis."

The meetings will begin at 7.30pm and run for 90 minutes.

Venues include:

Wednesday May 8: Craigavon Civic Centre

Thursday May 9 : Antrim Civic Centre

Tuesday May 14: Signal Centre, Bangor

Wednesday May 15: Guildhall, Derry-Londonderry

Thursday May 16: Europa Hotel, Belfast

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