Hundreds of healthcare workers at Belfast Royal Victoria Hospital took to the picket line on Wednesday joining almost 15,000 other colleagues across Northern Ireland.
The day of strike action is a show of anger and defiance among staff over their demand for pay parity with colleagues in the rest of the UK, alongside a protest at decreasing staff numbers in the service.
The members of staff — from every department in the Trust — braved the wind and rain outside the Falls Road entrance of the hospital from 8am.
Carrie Cruikshank has worked as a mental health social worker for four years and has a daily job helping patients in the community.
She explained that staff are at the stage of being unable to cope with the ever increasing demands on their time.
“For years the health service has been running on the goodwill of the staff. We are all putting in hours over and above what we normally should be doing," she said.
“We think it is very important work that we are doing, but it comes to the stage now when your wages are not even covering your bills at the end of the month. I think it is a disgrace.
“Our funding in mental health has been cut so many times. We have caseloads of over 50 in the community.
“People are not taking lunch breaks, they are coming in early, going home late, they are doing notes at night.
“We are working over and above all the time and it is a slap in the face not to be getting paid the same as our colleagues across the water.”
Throughout the morning there was significant support among members of the public. Conversations among the staff were regularly drowned out by the sustained sounds of car horns. People also stopped to offer their support as they walked by.
For Michael McConnell — a porter in the hospital for the last 20 years — the amount of good wishes in the community has inspired him to take to the picket.
He said: “This community is second to none. The communities across the road in the Falls are all giving us free tea and coffee.
“When this National Health Service feels the burden, this community feels the brunt of it. Even walking to the strike this morning, you had neighbours wishing you well.
“We are the NHS this whole community is the NHS and we are very proud of it.”