Editor's Viewpoint: Time our nurses got the pay they deserve
It is a fairly straightforward question this newspaper has raised through its report that nurses may go on strike next month. Why are our nurses paid less than those in other parts of the UK? A newly qualified nurse in Northern Ireland will earn £1,419 less than their counterpart in England and Wales, and £1,875 less than in Scotland.
Their jobs and hours of work are similar and, as has often been reported, they are the backbone of the health service. Doctors may perform all kinds of medical marvels, but the ongoing care patients receive in hospital comes from nurses.
This newspaper reported earlier this year that there are 1,400 unfilled nursing posts here and health trusts have to engage expensive agency staff to fill the gaps.
The Royal College of Nursing, an organisation that has never seen its members go on strike in its 103-year history, is using words like crisis and disillusionment when discussing the current state of morale among members.
Nursing is no ordinary job. While the description of nurses as angels is an often overworked cliche, there is no doubt that the occupation has a significant vocational element. Nurses want to give patients the best possible care, but lack of numbers and weight of demand make that very difficult.
They talk of basic tasks like providing patients with bedpans as taking too long, routine observations not being taken and, saddest of all, dying patients not being given the standard of care they deserve.
Those are a damning indictment of the current state of the NHS.
It is estimated that giving nurses pay parity with colleagues in Britain would cost around £10m and that the Department of Health here could not afford that. Whatever happened to the £1bn windfall from the confidence and supply agreement between the Tory Government and the DUP?
Talks aimed at restoring devolution are under way, and according to reports, have begun with the usual agenda of equality and respect and what each side wants, as opposed to what each side will give.
But surely this is an equality issue which trumps the demands of politicians and an issue of respect of the utmost importance. What respect are the politicians who have been absent from their jobs for almost two-and-a-half years having for patients who are not getting the care they deserve, or nurses who are not getting the pay they deserve?