An ‘overwhelming’ number of members voted for strike action.
This is the first time in the history Royal College of Nursing members have voted to take strike action.
Of the 43% of member in Northern Ireland that returned their ballot papers, 96% voted to take industrial action short of a strike, and 92% voted for strike action.
The ballot involved RCN members working under Agenda for Change terms and conditions within Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland.
The College’s governing Council will meet early next week to approve plans to take forward industrial action, including strike action, across HSC services in Northern Ireland.
The first time RCN members have voted to strike.
RCN Chief Executive and General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “This is a day we had hoped not to reach, and the first time RCN members have voted to strike in our 103 year history.
“We did not take the decision to ballot members lightly. But the fact that nurses in Northern Ireland have now voted so overwhelmingly for industrial action, including strike action, shows how clearly they can see the risk to patient safety from staff shortages.
“In addition, the fact that the real value of nurses’ pay in Northern Ireland has fallen by around 15% in the last eight years is a fundamental unfairness that must be urgently addressed. Patients hugely value the care nursing staff provide, but it’s clear that health service leaders in Northern Ireland do not.
“This overwhelming result is a tribute to the hard work undertaken by RCN members and staff in Northern Ireland”.
Nurses do not feel ‘valued or respected’.
RCN Northern Ireland Director Pat Cullen said: “Today, nursing staff in Northern Ireland have spoken clearly and collectively on behalf of patients and the people of Northern Ireland. Nurses are no longer willing to see patients being denied the health care services to which they are entitled.
“The 3,000 nursing vacancies that currently exist within the HSC are having a detrimental impact on patient care and adding enormous pressure to the existing nursing workforce, who are doing everything they can to care for patients.
“Nurses’ pay in Northern Ireland has fallen significantly behind that in the rest of the UK. Not only is this completely unfair but it sends a strong message to nurses that they are not valued or respected by decision-makers and employers.
“Equally importantly, it makes it difficult to recruit and retain the nurses that we desperately need to provide health care to the people of Northern Ireland. If we continue to treat nurses in this way, the health and social care system in Northern Ireland will move rapidly from crisis to collapse.”