Members of the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) took to the picket lines for the first time in the union's 103-year history yesterday, in what they see as a last-ditch effort to save their profession and keep patients safe.
RCN nurses went on the first 24-hour phase of industrial action over pay and staffing levels yesterday at hospitals across the five health trusts.
While there were pickets across several Belfast hospitals yesterday, the main demonstration happened during lunchtime at the gates of the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast.
Those demonstrating on the picket line did not wish to be identified, fearful of any future disciplinary action. One female nurse, who has been working in the service for almost four decades, described the need for action as being "sad that we are actually here".
She said: "I am nursing 38 years now in January and I never would have thought in all of my nursing career that I would have been out on industrial action.
"The reason we are doing this is for safe staffing levels. We have been doing it for too long. We are understaffed, patient care is compromised and we are not sticking it any longer. We are a national health service. There is a word there - 'national' - so we should be treated like our national colleagues across the water. It is about pay parity also."
Another nurse of more than 30 years explained that the crisis point in Northern Ireland's health service has led to a "draining away" of experienced staff within hospitals.
She said: "I always thought nurses can't strike and I just think it has reached the point that if we don't, the health service as we know it is going to run into the ground.
"Nurses are holding it together, but I think we really can't continue to do that.
"Anybody around my age is considering retirement because there is nothing left. The experienced nurses are leaving because it has got to crisis point and that experience is just draining away.
"I think the loyalty has gone really. We came in as young girls and we have been loyal to our departments.
"Who would want to work in a health service on its knees?
"People want to be valued and deserve to be valued... until they (the Trust) realise that, the nursing shortage isn't going away, in fact it will get worse."