Who is the woman from County Tyrone taking on the government for nurses?

Pat Cullen grew up in Carrickmore in County Tyrone

The Royal College of Nursing's general secretary Pat Cullen has said nursing is in her blood.

She is the youngest of six girls, four of whom went on to become nurses.

She also has a brother whom her family tried to convince to become a nurse "but he wasn't having any of it", she has said.

Ms Cullen grew up in Carrickmore in Co Tyrone.

She failed her GCSEs and was unable to continue to A-levels, so went to college instead and then became a trainee nurse.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph in 2019, she described starting her career in mental health nursing, from where she became an assistant director of mental health services and professional head of nursing.

She told the newspaper: "I can honestly say that I loved every day of working in mental health. I can't imagine any other career that would have fulfilled me professionally or personally as much.

"I started out working in hospital before moving into the community, which was just mind-blowing and a privilege to look after people in their own homes."

Ms Cullen, who is also a registered psychotherapist, was a community psychiatric nurse in Twinbrook and Poleglass during the Troubles, and has said "the impact of the violence on mental health was shocking".

Married with children, Ms Cullen had further roles, including deputy director of nursing, safety, quality and patient experience in the Northern Ireland Public Health Agency (PHA), and working at the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board (HSCB).

She has also worked as the executive director of nursing and allied health professions within the PHA and HSCB.

In May 2019, she became director of RCN Northern Ireland, having started working for the RCN in 2016.

Ms Cullen was seen as key to mobilising staff in Northern Ireland to vote for strike action in 2019 and 2020. In April 2021 she took on the role of the head of the RCN.

This year, Ms Cullen spent the summer touring NHS workplaces to encourage nurses to vote in favour of a UK-wide ballot in a dispute over pay.

Ballot papers were sent out in October and in November the union announced that up to 100,000 members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would strike - the first national walkout in the history of the RCN.

The first wave of strike action was set for December 15 and December 20 - with the possibility of further strikes to be announced in the new year.

Ms Cullen has been extremely vocal in the dispute, calling Health Secretary Steve Barclay "belligerent" for refusing to discuss pay with nurses.

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