A nurse helping to save the lives of coronavirus patients has been handed a £40 parking ticket by health bosses, it has emerged.
The nurse had just finished a 12-hour night shift working on a Covid-19 ward when she arrived at her car and discovered a parking ticket.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) described the move by health bosses at a time when the NHS is facing its biggest ever threat as "soul-destroying".
Pat Cullen, RCN (NI) director, also revealed the nurse paid the fine, which was half of the money she earned during her 12-hour shift.
The shameful development comes as Health Minister Robin Swann gave a commitment that hospital parking fees will be waived for NHS staff in the coming months.
Ms Cullen said: "I am absolutely gutted for the nurse in question.
"I was absolutely speechless when I saw the photograph of the ticket.
"The nurse had just finished a 12-hour shift and came out to her car and found the ticket.
"Her car wasn't even obstructing anyone.
"When she arrived at the hospital for work there weren't any spaces available.
"So she parked up responsibly with the intention of returning to move her car when she got a chance.
"Of course, she didn't get the opportunity and this is what happened.
"We have nurses who are putting their own health at risk to care for patients with coronavirus, they are working 12 hours straight, they aren't even getting a break, and this is what happens.
"Not only that, but the £40 fine was half of what she earned during her shift.
"It's soul-destroying. What kind of message does this send to our nurses?"
The staffing shortages in Northern Ireland and across the UK are so severe that regulatory bodies have issued appeals to recently retired doctors and nurses to return to the front line to help care for patients.
Elective operations have been cancelled and hospital doctors are preparing to be redeployed into Covid-19 wards as an increasing number of patients become critically ill.
The challenge facing the NHS - the greatest crisis in its 71-year history - comes just months after tens of thousands of health service staff staged industrial action in a row over pay and conditions.
Ms Cullen continued: "Our nurses are putting their own health on the line.
"They are treating patients with coronavirus, raising the possibility that they may also contract the virus.
"We are hearing from nurses whose family are asking them to sit in different rooms when they come home from their shifts because they are scared of catching coronavirus.
"We are hearing nurses who are asking whether any of the hotels in Belfast will let them have a room where they can change and shower or stay between shifts.
"Our nurses are doing everything they can to help save lives, to look after critically ill patients, and I think we should be cutting them a bit of slack."