Northern Ireland Election 2017

NI Assembly election: Nursing Stormont back to health

Nurses want Stormont returned to fitness

Nurses on a hospital ward Image copyright PA
Image caption Poor staffing levels in hospitals is putting nurses under pressure, according to the RCN

Nurses are being urged to use their vote in the Northern Ireland Assembly election, with a trade union saying Stormont's collapse has meant momentum has been lost in attempts to reform the health service.

Staffing levels in hospitals are "unsustainable" and nurses "cannot continue in the conditions that they're working under", according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

Garrett Martin, the union's deputy director in Northern Ireland, said its members should challenge election candidates on their views on two main issues - healthcare staffing levels and pay.

"Overwhelmingly, the messages that we're getting from our members relate to safe staffing," he said.

"[And] there is pay inequity with nurses and other healthcare staff in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

"We want to see that addressed, but we also want to see it in the context of reform and modernisation."

Image caption Garrett Martin said politicians must "take responsibility" and strike a deal for Stormont's return

In October, Health Minister Michelle O'Neill unveiled her 10-year plan to reform a health and social care system that she said was at "breaking point".

But the RCN believes that a political stalemate after the 2 March poll would be detrimental to patients.

Mr Martin said the union would be "very concerned" by the prospect of a return to direct rule from Westminster.

"We want to see consensus to continue to get on with making some of the difficult decisions to make sure the health service is sustainable and safe," he said.

"We would be urging politicians to take the responsibility to do what's best for the interests of the people in Northern Ireland."

There are about 18,000 nurses in Northern Ireland, and Mr Martin wants them to engage with candidates before casting their vote.

"When the representatives are knocking on your door to ask what they believe is right in relation to safe staffing, in relation to nurses' and healthcare staff's pay.

"We want nurses to make their mind up as to who they believe and which party they believe would best help deliver on those priorities."

Wet welcome for birthday boy Brown

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionAlliance Party candidate Patrick Brown tells of his unfortunate brush with a dog

You never know what to expect when you're out on the canvass, and it can be a dangerous world out there.

We've heard of the perils of putting up posters and slotting leaflets through letterboxes, but here's a first for this campaign.

Alliance Party candidate Patrick Brown said he was on the receiving end of a wet welcome in Newcastle - and it wasn't the rain he was talking about.

Instead, he picked up a puppy and the excitement was all a bit too much for the pooch.

And the unwelcome gift came on Mr Brown's birthday!

Butler serves up top tweeting

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionUlster Unionist candidate Robbie Butler gives daily video updates from the campaign trail

We've been keeping a close eye on how the Stormont election hopefuls have been getting on out on the campaign trail.

And while the traditional method of knocking the doors is all important, there's no better place to get the message out there than on social media.

Some have been making better use of Facebook and Twitter than others, it has to be said, and topping the tweets is Ulster Unionist candidate Robbie Butler.

He's gone above and beyond the usual canvass group selfie, and posts daily video updates from his leaflet rounds.

But as he explained in this video, he took Tuesday evening off from hitting the doorsteps, choosing instead to give cosying couples a bit of peace on Valentine's night.

There were plenty of candidates who head out on the trail, however, and we suspect they couldn't quite claim to have received too much of a loving reception on that particular night of the year.

Still making your mind up?

In less than two weeks' time, the five main political parties will go head to head in the The Leaders' Debate, and there's still time for you to get involved.

The BBC is looking for people who have yet to decide on which party will get their first-preference vote.

Noel Thompson will chair the event, which will be broadcast on 28 February, just a couple of days before voters go to the polls.

To apply to be there, drop an email to

BBC News NI's Campaign Catch-up will keep you across the Northern Ireland Assembly election trail with a daily dose of the main stories, the minor ones and the lighter moments in the run up to polling day on Thursday 2 March.

Hear more on BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster and BBC Radio Foyle's The Breakfast Show at 07:40 GMT, and on BBC Radio Ulster's Evening Extra at 17:40 each weekday.

More on this story