Health crisis: Nursing union may suspend strike

Nurses and health service workers pictured on strike outside the Belfast City Hospital in Belfast. '''Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Nurses and health service workers pictured on strike outside the Belfast City Hospital in Belfast. '''Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
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The Royal College of Nursing has called for an urgent meeting with the new Northern Ireland health minister Robin Swann and said it may be able to suspend further industrial action.

The nursing union has been engaged in industrial action for some time over the disparity in pay between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and staffing levels across the health service here.

RCN NI Director Pat Cullen'Photo by Aaron McCracken

RCN NI Director Pat Cullen'Photo by Aaron McCracken

The Northern Ireland director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Pat Cullen, said if a “formal assurance” can be given by the new health minister the union “may be in a position to suspent further industrial action”.

“After three years of political stalemate and the deepening crisis within our health services, nurses in Northern Ireland hope that (the restoration of an Assembly and powersharing Executive) will bring a new dawn in health care in Northern Ireland,” she said.

“Nurses in Northern Ireland have been fighting for months to get someone, somewhere to listen and act upon the serious issues facing patients and health care staff which have continued to become worse and worse.

“There is no doubt that the courage and determination shown by nurses, alongside the unwavering support of patients and the public, has been instrumental in bringing us to where we are today.”

RCN nurses on a picket line at Altnagelvin Hospital on January 8.

RCN nurses on a picket line at Altnagelvin Hospital on January 8.

Former Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann took on the health portfolio on Saturday during the first sitting of the Assembly in three years.

Within minutes of being elected, Mr Swann issued a challenge to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith.

“We’ve stepped up and now he has to step up,” he said.

““He has to step up for the people of Northern Ireland who are on those waiting lists, he has to step up for pay parity for the workers and nurses.”

RCN Northern Ireland director Pat Cullen continued: “We welcome Robin Swann MLA as our new health minister and call for an immediate meeting to begin the process of resolving our dispute about pay parity and safe staffing.

“Nurses could not have made it clearer that they do not want to be standing on picket lines losing yet more pay. They want to get back on the wards and in the community, treating and caring for patients like they should be.

“We require strong political leadership and if we are able to get a formal assurance from our new health minister that our requirements will be met, we may be in a position to suspend further industrial action.”

She added: “The New Decade, New Approach deal provides an opportunity to take forward many of issues that need urgently addressed and is a basis upon which to take further steps to ensure that our health service becomes truly fit for purpose. This will not happen overnight but must begin urgently.

“We ended the last decade in despair but I hope we can now take forward this decade with optimism and put a plan in place to make our health service something we can be proud of.”

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “This tremendous breakthrough would never have happened without nurses taking such a clear stand for their patients.

“The public knew our nurses were striking as a last resort and for the sake of safer care - their support for us never wavered and we are extremely grateful.

“When nurses come together to advocate for their patients, we’re a force to be reckoned with.”