Thousands of nurses and support workers are to be balloted over potential strike action.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has taken the “unprecedented” step of balloting members working in the Health and Social Care Service (HSC) in Northern Ireland on industrial action, including strike action.
Staffing shortages, ever-increasing waiting times and over-stretched services mean RCN members have “no option” left but to vote on industrial action.
The college claims there are around 5,000 unfilled nursing posts throughout acute, community and residential health services.
In addition, pay within the health service in Northern Ireland continues to fall behind England, Scotland and Wales – with an estimated real-terms pay cut of 15% in the last eight years. It is also reported that the cost of securing nursing staff via nursing agencies has simultaneously increased to an all-time high of £32 million in 2017-2018.
Fiona Devlin, Chair of the RCN Northern Ireland Board said: “The decision taken today is unprecedented in the history of the RCN.”
“Members of the RCN Northern Ireland Board have been left with no option but to ballot RCN members in Northern Ireland as a result of the total inaction to address the staffing crisis facing health care in Northern Ireland.
“This situation is compounded by nurses in Northern Ireland being the lowest paid across the UK.”
RCN Northern Ireland Director Pat Cullen added: “No nurse in Northern Ireland wishes to take any form of industrial action. However, as a profession, we are no longer prepared to tolerate the risk to patients, nurses and the people of Northern Ireland.
“The RCN is putting immediate measures in place to make preparations to ballot members in the coming weeks.”