RCN urges Northern Ireland Assembly to reject cuts

Speaking in advance of Monday’s Assembly debate on plans to axe 722 nursing posts from Northern Ireland’s health service, Royal College of Nursing [RCN] Northern Ireland Director Mary Hinds has urged Assembly members to support any proposals to exempt or reduce the impact on the health service of the efficiency targets required under the Comprehensive Spending Review [CSR].

Mary said: “The Review of Public Administration [RPA] was supposed to impact across all areas of government in Northern Ireland but yet it is only health and social care that has so far completed its restructuring. In doing so it has demonstrated the willingness and capacity for change and modernisation. Allied to the impact of the CSR, it is clear that the Executive is asking the service to do too much too soon.

“We have consistently drawn attention to the impact on patient care that will result from the proposed cuts and we have highlighted the fact that it is the most vulnerable members of our communities who could be affected. The RPA and CSR are intended to release funding for re-investment in frontline services but there is nothing more frontline than nurses caring for patients in our hospitals and in our communities across Northern Ireland. We have been heartened at the wide support we have received from all of our political parties for these concerns.

“Nurses will welcome any moves to safeguard services to patients and to communities. We hope that Assembly members will take this opportunity to again consider carefully the impact of CSR efficiency proposals on health care. The Assembly must send a clear message to the Northern Ireland Executive that the scale of the efficiency savings it is requiring from our health and social care service is unrealistic and unsustainable.

“The health service has been placed in an impossible position in meeting these efficiency targets. It is now time for the Northern Ireland Executive to re-examine its plans and priorities, putting the needs of patients and the health and well-being of the people of Northern Ireland first.”


The principal issues for RCN Northern Ireland in relation to proposals to cut 722 nursing posts are as follows:

– We recognise that the CSR efficiency targets have been imposed upon the DHSSPS and that many difficult – if not impossible – decisions will need to be made in order to meet these requirements.

– The CSR process, like that of the Review of Public Administration [RPA], is intended to free resources for re-investment in front-line services.

– The projected loss of 722 nursing posts undermines this assertion because there is nothing more front-line than nurses at the bedside or in the community providing care to patients and clients.

– The trusts’ CSR consultation process has been fragmented and confused; it is still not clear which posts will be affected and how these requirements will be achieved.

– Cutting 722 nursing posts will not be achieved through natural wastage.

– Trusts need to put in place workforce development programmes to ensure that nurses and other staff are appropriately prepared to deliver new health and social care services.

– Trusts need to build the confidence of both the public and the health and social care workforce in the new health and social care services.

– Various studies, including the independent RQIA report into the clostridium difficile outbreak in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, have documented the link between nurse staffing levels and patient safety, including patient mortality.

– The evidence available to RCN Northern Ireland suggests that the role of the ward sister and other nurse managers is being undermined by the trusts’ proposals.