Nurses working within health and social care (HSC) organisations in Northern Ireland, and who are members of professional body and trade union Royal College of Nursing (RCN), have accepted new government proposals on pay and safe staffing.
The agreement, which was decided at a meeting of the RCN Northern Ireland Board on Monday 24 February 2020, will restore pay parity with the NHS in England, in addition to implementing a series of measures to improve staffing.
The proposal was made following strike action which took place in December 2019 across 21 locations, and again in January 2020. RCN stated that cost saving measures had resulted in fewer nursing positions, a reduction in student nurses and recruitment freezes.
Before the agreement was reached, further industrial action was planned for February and March 2020.
Pat Cullen, director at RCN in Northern Ireland, said: “The past few months have been amongst the most turbulent and pressurised that nurses have ever seen. It was unprecedented, not just in Northern Ireland, but for RCN members anywhere to go on strike. Nurses had come to the conclusion that in order to protect patients, they had no choice.
“This was neither an easy decision, nor one that was taken lightly. As I stood on picket lines with my colleagues, we felt the weight of the health service and the people of Northern Ireland on our shoulders, but we knew it was the right thing to do for patients.
“While RCN members have spoken clearly in accepting this offer, we are also clear that we need to see all of the measures that have been agreed by Health Minister Robin Swann implemented in full. Safe staffing was the central part of our dispute and for the sake of those who use the service, and those who work in it, we must get this right.
“We recognise that it may take some time to resolve this crisis but the sooner we begin, the sooner this will happen and we cannot afford to wait one more day. The Minister has shown his full commitment in endorsing these proposals and we now need to see them delivered. In particular, work must start as a matter of urgency on safe nurse staffing legislation which will ensure that we never find ourselves in this position again. Scotland and Wales have already implemented legislation and Northern Ireland needs to be next.
“I don’t think there can be any doubt about the commitment that nurses have shown to patient care and the measures they will take to ensure that we never have to experience such unacceptable conditions within our health service again.”
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary at RCN, added: “I am extremely proud of the way nurses in Northern Ireland stood up for their patients and the nursing profession. Today’s endorsement of this deal by members in Northern Ireland is further proof that those who fought hard in December and January were speaking for the majority.
“A great deal of hard work will now be needed by all sides to make the new proposals a reality, and we will be holding health service leaders to account to ensure that the pledges on staffing levels are kept.
“Taking industrial action and going on strike was an extremely difficult decision for nurses, but shows that when we stand together, we can bring about real change for the better.”
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I very much welcome this trade union announcement. My first objective on taking up the post of Health Minister was to secure a resolution to the industrial action and I am delighted that this has now been achieved.
“This was made possible through important pay and staffing commitments which I was able to make with executive-wide backing and I am grateful to my colleagues around the executive table for this vital support.
“As I have repeatedly stated, our health service will need sustained investment year on year for the sake of patients and staff.”