'We are at breaking point': Local nurses join colleagues in strike action

Nurses from the Larne area have joined thousands of colleagues across Northern Ireland as strike action begins in a dispute over pay and patient safety.

Denise Marshall, a senior Band 7 nurse at Antrim Area Hospital, called for support for the "nursing family" as she joined the picket line at Antrim Area Hospital this morning.

Picket line at Antrim Area Hospital this morning.

Picket line at Antrim Area Hospital this morning.

Over 200 colleagues were present at the Bush Road site in what is the first strike in the 103-year history of the Royal College of Nursing.

Today's stand is a response to an increasingly "desperate" situation, Denise said. "We are at breaking point," she added. "We have the highest vacancy rate in the UK and the number of registered nurses is starting to fall in Northern Ireland.

"We have had staff in tears because care hasn't been delivered to the standard that we would like."

Patients, meanwhile have been broadly supportive of the move. "The public feeling is one of understanding; they have been able to see the pressure that we are under," Denise added.

Nursing colleagues from the RCN, Unison at Unite at Moyle Hospital.

Nursing colleagues from the RCN, Unison at Unite at Moyle Hospital.

Some areas during the strike will be derogated, meaning nursing staff will continue to work to support life-preserving services such as intensive care, palliative care and chemotherapy services.

"We have been working hard to make sure patients are not compromised, but enough is enough and we had to make a stand," Denise said.

At Moyle Hospital in Larne, around a dozen nursing colleagues from the RCN, Unison, and Unite had formed a picket line.

Among the group was RCN member Carol Milligan, a district nurse in the Larne area. "It's not only about parity of pay; it's about having safe levels of staff," she said. "At the end of the day none of us want to be standing here but it's the patients we are thinking of.

A placard at Antrim Area Hospital.  INLT 52-724-CON

A placard at Antrim Area Hospital. INLT 52-724-CON

"The support we have had here, not only from the public but other colleagues has been fantastic."

Nurses in Northern Ireland are the lowest paid in the UK, according to the RCN.

There are currently 2,800 vacant nursing posts in the HSC and nurse pay has fallen by 15 percent in real terms in recent years.

Strike action is continuing throughout the day at 21 locations across Northern Ireland.

It follows three days of industrial action, short of strike, which took place earlier in December.

If there is no resolution, further strike days are planned in January, February and March 2020.

Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN Chief Executive and General Secretary, said: “This is a moment every nurse wishes had never come, but faced with an abject failure to tackle unsafe staffing levels and severe pay inequality with colleagues in the rest of the UK, our members in Northern Ireland are saying enough is enough.

“Nurses are taking a stand for their patients, and also for their colleagues. It is about time the powers that be finally sit up and take notice because the crisis in the HSC cannot be allowed to continue.

“To every one of our members in Northern Ireland taking this stand, I want you to know that the RCN, and its entire membership, are right behind you.”