Ulster Unionist Party health spokesman Roy Beggs said the unprecedented action taken by Northern Ireland’s biggest nursing union to strike shows the scale of the pressure weighing down on the health service.
His comments come after 92% of nurses taking part in a ballot voted for the first time in the 103-year history of the Royal College of Nursing in favour of a walk out.
A Westminster report has warned that the health service in Northern Ireland is on the brink of collapse.
MLA Roy Beggs described nurses as the backbone of the health service.
“The significance of their overwhelming decision to vote for strike action cannot be overstated,” he said.
“Two months ago I revealed that there were a frightening 2,482 nursing posts vacant across Northern Ireland. As a direct result there is a crippling shortage of nurses on hospital wards, in our nursing homes and out in community roles.
“I’m not surprised at all that the nurses that are in place have taken this decision given the challenges that they’re working under.”
He added: “Given medical staff in Northern Ireland are signed up to the NHS’s wider UK terms and conditions, the major disparity in pay is also totally unfair.
“The decision to vote for strike action is momentous. Under any normal circumstances this would present a major crisis for a Health Minister, but in the absence of a local Executive this once again illustrates just how badly staff and patients are being failed by the ongoing impasse at Stormont.”
Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill – and Northern Ireland’s last health minister said her party supports the decision taken by nurses.
“They deserve to work within safe staffing levels and with a proper pay deal,” she said calling on the Department of Health to negotiate “proper terms and conditions” for staff.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he wanted to show solidarity with nurses saying there had to pay equality with those working in the rest of the UK.
“Nurses are a vital part of our health service,” he said.
Alliance leader Naomi Long said she was sad but no surprised by the news.
“Public pay restraint has lasted far longer than was reasonable and far longer in NI than anywhere else,” she added.
Solidarity with our nurses today as the ballot on taking industrial action closes. SDLP fully supports the dispute over vacancy rates, pay inequality between nurses here and in GB and the stagnation of negotiations with employers. Nurses are a vital part of our health service
— Colum Eastwood (@columeastwood) November 7, 2019
Sad but not surprising news, and action that nurses have not entered into lightly.
Public pay restraint has lasted far longer than was reasonable and far longer in NI than anywhere else.
Also pay rises announced in other parts of the UK have not been replicated here.
— Naomi Long MLA (@naomi_long) November 7, 2019
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