Belfast Telegraph

Issues that led to industrial action by RCN members

Thousands of nurses and healthcare workers walked out on Wednesday in a row over pay, the first strike in the Royal College of Nursing's 103-year history
Thousands of nurses and healthcare workers walked out on Wednesday in a row over pay, the first strike in the Royal College of Nursing's 103-year history

By Michael McHugh

Thousands of nurses and healthcare workers walked out on Wednesday in a row over pay, the first strike in the Royal College of Nursing's 103-year history.

Q. Why did they take the action?

A. The RCN union says its members are angry that their pay has not kept up with counterparts in the rest of the UK.

More than nine out of 10 supported the strike action.

According to the union, a newly-qualified band five nurse in Northern Ireland will earn £22,795 each year, compared with £24,214 in England and Wales and £24,670 in Scotland.

An experienced nurse at the top of band five will earn £29,315 in Northern Ireland, compared with £30,112 in England and Wales and £30,742 in Scotland.

The RCN also believes staffing levels are too low - there are around 2,800 vacant posts - and claims the logjam preventing Stormont devolved powersharing from returning has stymied efforts to resolve the situation.

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Q. What does the Government say?

A. Stormont's Department of Health has offered an extra £51m.

Its senior civil servant, Richard Pengelly, said it was as far as he could go in the absence of ministers to take decisions on re-financing the NHS as well as ordering much-needed reforms.

Secretary of State Julian Smith believes that the action illustrates why it is important that powersharing is restored.

He is leading political talks which he hopes will lead to a restored ministerial Executive early next year.

Q. But what did devolved ministers do when they were in post?

A. In 2015 former health minister Jim Wells introduced changes which broke the principle of pay parity between Northern Ireland health care workers and England and Wales. In 2016, another former health minister, Simon Hamilton, imposed a 1% pay award, which produced more discord from health workers.

In 2017 Westminster agreed a pay deal involving a raise over three years for workers but it was not implemented in Northern Ireland.

Q. What condition is the health system in Northern Ireland in?

A. In 2016 former Stormont health minister Michelle O'Neill outlined a 10-year vision for transforming care based on recommendations from a Government-commissioned report called the Bengoa Report.

That review called for ring-fenced money to transform how health services are delivered as well as a range of other changes.

Since then, Northern Ireland's waiting lists for routine care have stretched and thousands of patients are waiting more than a year for an appointment.

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