Northern Ireland nurses forced to work two jobs and rely on food banks to make ends meet
Nurses in Northern Ireland are working two jobs and relying on food banks just to pay their bills, it has been claimed.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said some nurses are unable to afford basics like childcare because the long hours worked are not reflected in their pay packets.
The union also said many staff nurses working in hospitals here are earning two to three times less than agency nurses working beside them.
It comes as the RCN polls its 270,000 members on their opinion of strike action over low pay and a recommendation by the UK-wide pay review body that nurses should get a 1% pay rise.
Nurses in Northern Ireland face an even more uncertain future than colleagues elsewhere in the UK.
It is not known whether they will even receive the 1% given the political impasse and absence of an agreed budget.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said a decision will be made on the recommended 1% pay rise once a health minister has been appointed.
If the rise gets the green light here, thousands of nurses will see their yearly pay go up by just over £200.
At the same time, MLAs have just been handed a £500 pay rise and continue to receive their £49,500 salary despite the Assembly not sitting.
According to the RCN, nurses in Northern Ireland have seen their pay drop by at least 14% since 2010 due to a combination of pay freezes and caps on pay rises.
It has also claimed that nurses in Northern Ireland are financially worse off than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK because of our pay structure.
Figures show just under half of all registered nurses here, or 8,457 WTE (whole time equivalent) nurses, are in the lowest pay band, with a starting salary of £21,692, rising to a maximum of £28,180 after eight years working for the NHS.
Northern Ireland has the highest percentage of band five nurses in the UK.
The head of the RCN in Northern Ireland, Janice Smyth (left), said nurses here are fed up with their working conditions and low pay.
"More and more of our members are suffering financial hardship," she said.
"They are working long, difficult shifts and then working second jobs because their salaries simply don't cover their bills; they are using food banks.
"The consultation we are running closes on May 7 so we won't know the outcome until we assess responses, however, we did survey members in the run up to the last Assembly election.
"We went out to the workplace and asked members their top ten priorities so we could put them to the political parties.
"We had 490 responses and the top concern was safe staffing levels, followed by pay and the third most important issue was their pension.
"There is a shortage of nurses in Northern Ireland so we have nurses working in wards where the numbers are being made up by agency nurses.
"They frequently work unpaid overtime because they won't just walk away when a patient needs them, they never know when they are going to get home, and because wards are understaffed they don't know what shifts they are working the following week.
"Then they are working alongside agency nurses who are being paid two to three times more than them," she added.