Nursing staff are among hundreds of health workers in Northern Ireland who have voted for strike action, the union GMB has confirmed.
Staff will join fellow members in Scotland, who have also overwhelmingly voted to strike over pay.
“The NHS in Northern Ireland is on life support”
Health and care members of GMB, including nurses, ambulance workers, hospital porters, cleaners and caterers, clerical staff, technicians, care workers, social workers and transport workers, voted to walk out by a margin of 86%.
At this stage the union told Nursing Times it will not be revealing which organisations in the country are striking, nor the number of nursing staff.
However, it said it will now meet with members to discuss the next steps, with industrial action possible before Christmas.
GMB said its members in Northern Ireland are angry over the lack of any kind of pay offer to help with “the cost of living crush and unsafe staffing levels”.
Unlike the other devolved nations, nursing staff in Northern Ireland have yet to receive a formal pay offer for 2022-23.
In July, the former health minister Robin Swann announced that he intended to accept the recommendations of the NHS Pay Review Body to uplift the full-time equivalent salaries of all Agenda for Change staff by at least £1,400 for 2022-23. This is in line with the award given to nurses in England and Wales.
However, Mr Swann said at the time he was unable to implement the pay offer immediately, as the executive budget for the financial year in Northern Ireland was yet to be agreed.
The country is currently missing a fully functioning executive due to disagreements related to the Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.
Jim Donley, GMB organiser, said: “This vote for strike action shows the NHS workforce across Northern Ireland are desperate.
“They’ve faced years of real terms pay cuts, a deadly pandemic and now a crushing cost of living crisis. They’re being pushed to the limit.
“But more than pay– this is as much about patient safety. A third of GMB ambulance workers think delays they’ve been involved with have led to the death of a patient.
“The NHS in Northern Ireland is on life support – the Westminster Government needs to provide urgent extra funding or the service as we know it will cease to exist.”
Scottish members of GMB voted overwhelmingly to strike at the beginning of November.
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing has also announced this week that its members will be striking in Northern Ireland and across the other UK nations.
Nurses have secured a mandate for strike action across all 11 Health and Social Care (HSC) employers in the country.
Like GMB, the union said the first period of industrial action can now be expected in the coming weeks.
This is because the law in Northern Ireland requires industrial action to start within 28 days from when the ballot closes.
Responding to the announcement, the Department of Health in Northern Ireland said it “shares the frustration” of health and care staff at the ongoing absence of a pay award this year.
It said: “We will continue to liaise with the Northern Ireland Office in relation to our financial position.
“We greatly value our health care staff and very much regret that so many of them believe industrial action is necessary.”
In the event of strike action proceeding, it said the department and HSC trusts will work closely with trade unions with a view to protecting critical services as much as possible.
“However, there will inevitably be an impact on patient care, and further impairment of already highly pressurised services,” it added.