Patients' lives at risk due to state of the health service
Lives are being put at risk as a result of the crisis facing the nursing workforce, it has been claimed.
Nurses at a Royal College of Nursing event have provided a shocking picture of the state of the health service in Northern Ireland.
One mental health nurse with more than 30 years' experience said: "It's getting to the stage where we feel like we're fighting every day going to work.
"We're fighting to get patients beds. I have patients with very severe anorexia with a low BMI, they are very, very ill and I can't get them a psychiatric bed or even in a general hospital.
"It's putting more pressure on us, you're worried is this person going to die overnight because you can't get them a hospital bed?
"Then the patients and their families are blaming us, telling us we're not doing anything to help them, it's constant."
A student nurse explained that she and colleagues had been told by management there was no budget for training.
She explained to the packed-out room in Antrim that bosses told her she could cover the cost to rise to band four herself but she would continue to be paid a band three salary.
Responding to the revelations, RCN (NI) director Pat Cullen said: "I'm a little bit of a loss as to what to say to my nursing colleagues tonight.
"Sitting here as a nursing leader, I really feel awful shame at how nurses are being totally and utterly exploited.
"It is clear exploitation, let's not dress it up anymore, more and more is being pushed on our nurses."
Politicians were singled out for much criticism, with a number of nurses and members of the public expressing anger at the ongoing political vacuum.
One retired nurse, aged in her eighties and who currently volunteers at the Northern Ireland Hospice, said: "Maybe if they had to spend 12 hours sitting in A&E instead of being able to pay for their care, things would change."
RCN (NI) is hosting a series of meetings to gauge public opinion on the possibility of strike action by its members.
It is the first time the union has ever taken such drastic action in its 103 history, signalling the growing anger over the state of the health service in Northern Ireland.