An end to recent strike action in Northern Ireland may be in sight, as representatives from the RCN and other unions have met with new health minister Robin Swann MLA, to discuss safe staffing and pay parity.
The meeting comes as The Northern Ireland Assembly has sat for the first time in three years, after assembly members nominated a new power-sharing Executive, between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein. Nurses in Northern Ireland began the first strike action in the RCN’s history in December, over staffing levels and pay.
‘We’re pleased the minister has listened carefully and responded quickly to our concerns, and that the situation in relation to pay parity has now been resolved,’ said RCN Northern Ireland Director Pat Cullen.
‘We are also satisfied that real progress has been made in relation to safe staffing and recruitment and retention of nursing staff. The minister has committed to a costed implementation plan for safe staffing within an agreed short period. There is a long way to go and we will work closely with the minister and Department of Health to find a sustainable way forward. Resolving the difficulties in relation to safe staffing has been at the forefront of concerns for RCN members and we made it very clear to the minister that this issue must be dealt with urgently.’
Following what the RCN described as a ‘positive discussion’ with the new minister, an extraordinary meeting of the RCN Northern Ireland Board has been called for 16 January. At this meeting, the board will consider formal communication awaited from the minister. On receipt of this correspondence, the suspension of strike action scheduled for next week may be proposed.
‘We need details in writing from the minister but today’s steps are hugely significant and our members can feel proud at the assurances they’ve secured,’ said Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive of the RCN.
‘It was our concerns over patient safety that drove us to take this action and what we’re beginning to hear about staffing levels reassures me that we’re being listened to. For too long, pay for nursing staff in Northern Ireland has lagged behind other parts of the UK and today we have moved a huge step closer to ending that.’