Strike about 'caring for the NHS', Belfast intensive care nurse says

The decision to go on strike is about sending a message that “we care about our NHS, and we care about our nurses”, a front-line intensive care nurse in Belfast has said.
Amanda SmithAmanda Smith
Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith, an intensive care nurse in the Belfast Trust, is among hundreds of thousands of nurses across the UK who are now preparing to take to the picket lines this winter in the first ever UK-wide strike in the Royal College of Nursing’s (RCN) century-long history.

Speaking to the News Letter on Thursday, after the union announced that an “overwhelming” majority had backed strike action in Northern Ireland, Ms Smith described how colleagues have continually left the health service – leaving the service reliant on expensive agency workers, and the remaining staff “stretched to the limit”.

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She said her decision to back the strike was about sending a message that “we care about our NHS, and we care about our nurses.”

“I voted for strike action because things are very difficult at the moment,” she said. “It’s a terrible situation where we’re admitting people into Emergency Departments (EDs) and there aren’t enough beds for them. Maybe you have an elderly parent who needs to be admitted into hospital, and the nurses in ED are pushed to their absolute limits, and there aren’t enough of them. Your parent could be going into the hospital and there aren’t enough beds.”

She continued: “It was difficult. Obviously no nurse wants to go on strike, but we know the service isn’t what it should be. It’s not funded properly. They’ve been talking about transforming the health service but with the Assembly not in place that isn’t happening. People should be able to get the care they need, and it should be funded properly. Things are just going to keep getting worse. If any of the rest of us don’t turn up to do our jobs, we’ll get disciplined for it. The politicians are paid to do a job and they need to get on with it.”

On the number of nurses leaving the health service, she said: “I do know that people have chosen to go and work elsewhere. I know one person who was working in acute care in the community and was having to drive, and because she was having to drive she was having to pay for her fuel. She wasn’t getting sufficiently compensated, so she decided she was going to go and work for an airline. That’s someone who was doing a very important job.

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“I know some younger people who have built up two or three years experience and then decided to go and work in Australia, for better pay, and it’s unlikely they will ever come home.

It’s this continual drip, drip of people leaving. We need to send out a message that we value our NHS, we value our nursing staff, and we want to retain our nursing staff. We need to show that we care about our NHS, and we care about our nurses.”