Northern Irish nurses to write to politicians over pay deadlock

Nursing staff in Northern Ireland have been urged to write to members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) to demand that action be taken about the lack of a pay award in the country.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Northern Ireland board has this week told its members to demand that Stormont reconvenes, so that health and social care staff can be given a pay offer for 2023-24.

Northern Ireland has gone months without ministers in post, due to a boycott by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of power-sharing arrangements with Sinn Féin in defiance of the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol.

“Nursing staff in Northern Ireland have the same right to fair pay as those working in England, Scotland and Wales, and we should not be treated differently”

Briege Quinn

Because of this situation, the UK government was this year responsible for setting the budget in Northern Ireland.

However, the Department of Health in Northern Ireland warned that the £7.3bn pledged in the budget would not be enough to fund pay awards without large scale cuts taking place.

This means that nurses and other health and social care staff have not received an offer for the current financial year, in contrast to their counterparts in England, Wales and Scotland.

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Now, the RCN in Northern Ireland has called on its members to demand that the executive and assembly be restored so that a pay offer can finally be made.

Briege Quinn, chair of the RCN Northern Ireland board, told Nursing Times that, for months, there had been “no movement to restore pay parity for nursing staff in Northern Ireland”.

She said: “The secretary of state has said that he has no power to do anything in the absence of the Northern Ireland assembly and executive, and quite frankly there is no sign of that happening.

“Nursing staff are being held to ransom by the lack of political movement which is causing untold damage to services and patient care,” she said.

“We’ve, therefore, taken the step of asking our members to write to their MLA to demand that action is taken and that all political parties demonstrate leadership and accountability by getting back into government.”

Ms Quinn said RCN members needed to let their political representatives “know the strength of feeling amongst nursing staff”.

She noted that the college still had a mandate for strike action in the country and that the option was “very much on the table”, as the board continued to review the situation.

“Nursing staff in Northern Ireland have the same right to fair pay as those working in England, Scotland and Wales, and we should not be treated differently,” Ms Quinn added.

Separately, nurses and other health and social care staff belonging to the union Unison went on strike in Northern Ireland last week, amid the ongoing pay stalemate in the country.

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Those on the picket lines told Nursing Times that they would be willing to strike until the situation in the country was resolved and pay parity was restored.

Responding to the RCN announcement, the  Department of Health in Northern Ireland said it understood the “deep-seated frustration” over the ongoing absence of a pay offer for this year.

It said: “As has been previously stated, the current budgetary constraints mean that matching the English pay offer for Agenda for Change health and social care staff would require large scale cuts on an unprecedented scale, with severe and lasting implications for services.

“That would be outside the scope of our decision-making powers,” it said. “The department continues to look for ways to address the pay challenge.”

Meanwhile, a Northern Ireland Office spokesperson said: “The UK government does not have any authority to negotiate pay in Northern Ireland, it will be for the Northern Ireland Department of Health to make final decisions on pay policies.

“Sustainable public finances are critical to pave the way for long awaited improvement and transformation of the public services that we all rely on and want to protect,” they said.

“It remains the government’s top priority to restore the executive and for locally accountable political leaders to take fundamental decisions on Northern Ireland’s public services and deliver better outcomes for the people of Northern Ireland.”

Sinn Féin and the DUP were also contacted for comment.

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