Thousands of nurses have warned “enough is enough” as they went on strike for the first time.
Crowds of demonstrating healthcare workers protested outside hospitals across Northern Ireland in an unprecedented show of anger at pay levels they say are lagging behind counterparts in England and Wales and under-staffing.
The action saw around 9,000 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) walk out on Wednesday morning for 12 hours, supported by other healthcare workers including paramedics.
Routine medical appointments have been cancelled, minor injury units closed and there will be delays to some ambulance responses. Social services workers are also taking industrial action.
RCN Northern Ireland director Pat Cullen said: “They have tolerated this for so long and they say today enough is enough and we need to see something change for patients.”
The political vacuum caused by the collapse of powersharing at Stormont means no ministers are in place to decide whether to grant the pay demands or use extra cash to reduce Northern Ireland’s long waiting lists for treatment.
A short distance from Stormont, at the Ulster Hospital in East Belfast, more than 100 striking nurses and healthcare workers gathered either side of the main gates for a noisy protest.
A speaker played music and car horns from passing motorists sounded constantly in support. A few ambulances turned on sirens in a show of solidarity.
A total of 1,600 outpatient appointments have been cancelled in the Ulster Hospital’s administrative area. Only nine of 160 planned surgeries are going ahead.