A district nurse concerned about rising pressures on community services was among health workers who went on strike in Northern Ireland today.
Union members from Unison, Unite and Nispa took to the picket lines today in the country, as part of the UK-wide ongoing dispute over NHS pay.
“There aren’t enough nurses to do the kind of care that you want to do”
Maura McKenna, a district nursing sister and Unison member, was on strike outside Beech Hall Wellbeing and Treatment Centre in West Belfast.
She told Nursing Times that she was striking for “a living wage and staffing”.
Staff shortages and rising patient numbers meant district nursing services were finding it difficult to meet demand, Ms McKenna said.
“We’re struggling even to see palliative patients [and patients at the] end of life,” she said. “We’re struggling to even have enough syringes drivers to deal with the influx of those patients.
“And in the hospitals, they can say ‘we don’t have enough beds’ or they can say ‘we are under this amount of pressure’, but we don’t have a bed limit, we don’t say no,” she added.
Ms McKenna, who has been a nurse since 2010 and has worked in the community since 2016, said the staffing shortages not only placed additional pressures on district nurses who were left to fill the gaps, but that they affected patient care too.
“There aren’t enough nurses to do the kind of care that you want to do,” she said.
The dispute is centred on pay and Ms McKenna warned ministers that they were “forcing” women out of the health service, because they could no longer afford childcare on their wages.
“Nursing is a female-dominated profession and a lot of women are going to be pushed out of work with regards to childcare expenses,” she said.
Ms McKenna also went on strike before Christmas and she said she would do so again in future, if necessary.
Meanwhile, Unison and Nispa members have been taking industrial action short of striking in Northern Ireland since 16 January.
In December, the Department of Health in Northern Ireland finally confirmed a pay deal for Agenda for Change staff for 2022-23.
The award is the same as that received in England and Wales, which, for most nurses, equated to a rise of £1,400.
Unions in all four UK countries are seeking to improve the deals implemented for NHS staff in their respective nations.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health in Northern Ireland said it “fully understands the frustration and deep concern of staff across health and social care, who have worked in extremely challenging circumstances over the last three years and continue to do so”.
However, they claimed that the industrial dispute was “only resolvable at a national level” by those in Westminster.
“The Department of Health remains extremely concerned at the scale of the current pressures on health and social care services – and the impact this is having on patients, service users, carers and staff,” they added.
“The challenges being faced here are mirrored in neighbouring jurisdictions. It is the reality that there are no quick or simple solutions.”