We are living in unprecedented times and nurses are being lauded globally for putting themselves in the front line against the Covid-19 pandemic. It is but a few months since 15,500 nurses in Northern Ireland went on strike because of a lack of pay parity with their colleagues in the rest of the UK and amidst concerns about standards of patient safety. Leaving their patients to join picket lines raised serious ethical issues for these clinical nurses.
These included the principles of ‘nonmaleficence’, the nurses’ duty to do no harm, and ‘beneficence’, the duty to do good for patients. Going on strike meant that nurses could no longer be sure that they were adhering to these two principles. The ethical dilemma facing them was that not going on strike would compromise patient safety due to workforce shortages and low morale. There were reports in the media of nurses crying, not because of the care that they were giving, but because of the care that they were not able to give ( Nursing Times 2020 ).