Northern Ireland news

Nursing strikes expected to be suspended after pay deal approved

Royal College of Nursing chief Pat Cullen with striking nurses outside the Royal in Belfast last month. Picture by Hugh Russell
Seanín Graham

NURSING chiefs are to meet tomorrow to discuss "suspension" of further strikes after health minister Robin Swann yesterday approved a pay parity deal.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Unison met with Mr Swann yesterday after he announced funding to bring workers' wages into line with their English counterparts as well as a formal commitment to improving "safe" staffing levels.

The pay deal, which applies to this year and next, is estimated to cost £109 million.

Addressing his assembly colleagues, the North Antrim MLA said with the additional funds nurses and healthcare workers "can come off the picket line" and "get back to the job that they love and do so well."

"Additional funding has now been secured. Pay parity with England can be restored...The breakthrough we all wanted has been achieved. This is a good day after some very difficult days," Mr Swann said.

"I am grateful to my colleagues around the Executive table for helping to make it happen.We have moved significantly and quickly to take action together. That is a sign of optimism for the future."

Health minister Robin Swann with staff nurses Amber Loung (right) and Gillian Browne during a visit to the Emergency Department of the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, Northern Ireland. Picture by Michael Cooper.

Three nursing strikes are scheduled to take place next week but RCN chief Pat Cullen said that following "positive" discussions with the minister, they have called an extraordinary meeting of its board tomorrow and will await "formal communication" on pay and staffing levels.

"On receipt of this correspondence, the suspension of strike action scheduled for next week may be proposed," she said.

"We are pleased that the minister has listened carefully and responded quickly to our concerns, and that the situation in relation to pay parity has now been resolved.

"We are also satisfied that real progress has been made in relation to safe staffing and recruitment and retention of nursing staff.

"The minister has committed to a costed implementation plan for safe staffing within an agreed short period. There is a long way to go and we will work closely with the minister and Department of Health to find a sustainable way forward."

Unison health workers' union head of bargaining Anne Speed said that she "genuinely hoped" that "justice" for their members and patients was imminent.

"Their courage and tenacity has put the health and wellbeing of the people of Northern Ireland at the heart of a new political agenda," she said.

"We remain optimistic that an agreement can be reached and that our dispute can be resolved."

Department chiefs have found an additional £79 million for this year but an extra £30 million is required to solve the pay dispute, financed through drawing forward proposed funding allocations for future years.

Mr Swann said: "So while I am glad that it is not impacting on the funds available for other services this year, it is important to note that it has not been financed by an additional allocation to Northern Ireland."

Meanwhile, DUP MLA Christopher Stalford has revealed that the party had planned to take the health portfolio during the D'Hondt process.

Writing on Twitter yesterday, he posted: "Truthfully I thought it was going to Edwin and then Steve nominated Robin. I had every expectation we would get education and health. I thought Robin would go to DAERA."

Mr Poots previously held the post of health minister.

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