Nursing still in crisis one year on

Nurses in Northern Ireland continue industrial action - The Irish News

One year on from having to take industrial action in pursuit of fair pay and safe staffing levels, the nursing profession in Northern Ireland remains in crisis.

There has been limited progress on staff recruitment but legislation on safe staffing levels and improvements in nursing pay remain unresolved.

The Covid pandemic has underlined the central and fundamental role played by nursing staff in hospital and in community care, but despite effusive praise and admiration the Executive has yet to act on the key outstanding issues.

There is still a serious shortage of nursing staff, improvements in pay and conditions have not materialised and safe staffing levels have yet to be secured.

Many of the current difficulties stem from a lack of workforce planning and the reduction in the number of nurses in training. It will take time to rectify those issues and there must be public guarantees and detailed plans from the Executive and the Department of Health to address them.

For the safety of patients, and for the good of the nursing profession, there must be immediate legislation passed by the Assembly to guarantee staff staffing levels.

Last year’s strike action was the first in the RCN’s 104-year history. It should not need to be repeated.

Nursing vacancies: an emergency, but no accident

Nurses and Midwives were forced to take industrial action to demand safe staffing levels and the awarding of an overdue pay rise.

The chronic shortage of nurses in Northern Ireland, highlighted by the recent Audit Commission Report, is a clear sign of the failure to invest in nurse education, a failure of workforce planning, but, more ominously, an indicator that privatisation of the NHS comes in many forms‘, Party spokesperson Hugh Scullion has said.

‘The lack of registered nurses employed by the NHS has resulted in payments of almost £115 million to private nursing agencies in 2018/19. In addition to the 2,700 current nursing vacancies a further 1600 registered nurses are needed to ensure safe staffing levels for patients’, said Hugh.

‘For the first time in their unions’ histories members of the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives were forced to take industrial action earlier this year to demand safe staffing levels and the awarding of an overdue pay rise’, explained Hugh

‘Ironically, the same local political parties which had repeatedly withheld the pay increase and precipitated the safe staffing levels crisis were clapping for the NHS and lauding local nurses as heroes only a matter of weeks later, he said

Situations like this don’t simply happen – they are made.

‘It is impossible to ignore the fact that between 2011 and 2018 the EU Commission made 63 demands on member governments to cut spending on healthcare and/or outsource or privatise health services.

‘Taken together with successive local cuts to health and social care budgets, to nurse education funding and a reduction in the number of trainee places available and we have the origins and cause of this crisis’ he said

‘The recruitment of at least 2,700 nurses, to fill the vacancies in hospitals, community settings and in GP practices, must now be underpinned by safeguards such as legislation setting out minimum staffing safety levels for the protection of nurses as well as patients.

‘There must also be a public and trade union led campaign to bring pressure to bear to reverse the privatisation of our health and social care services and their surrender to the private profit sector’, Hugh concluded.