The impact on tens of thousands of patients of escalating unrest in the health service continues today with members of the public asked not to use out of hours GP services as hundreds of family doctors gather in Dublin for a protest.
Instead, patients are being asked by the National Association of GP Co-ops to travel to emergency departments in the case of emergency, or to wait to see their own GP tomorrow.
The latest disruption follows cancellation of outpatient appointments, non-urgent surgery, and respite, rehabilitation, and day centre services, affecting 50,000 patients in the past week.
Up to 75,000 are likely to be affected by the weekend if members of the 37,000-strong Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) go ahead with a third day of national strike tomorrow.
As of last night, there seemed little hope of a breakthrough in the pay dispute, with the INMO accusing the Government of “recycling” ideas and calling on them to “come to the table unconditionally”.
Adult mental health services will also come under considerable strain today and tomorrow due to a ban on overtime, including night rosters, as members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) engage in industrial action. The union has warned that services are heavily dependent on overtime. The PNA’s 6,000 members are also seeking improved pay.
Doctors will join the unrest with a National Association of General Practitioners-organised cavalcade of cars set to travel to the Dáil to protest at conditions and pay cuts.
The NAGP is calling for the unconditional reversal of pay cuts enforced during the recession. It claims the Government has abandoned general practice to the point where it is almost “beyond resuscitation”.
However a second doctors’ union, the Irish Medical Organisation, said it hopes to be able to agree a new deal for GPs with the Government “over the coming weeks”.
In a memo to members, it said the reversal of FEMPI measures must happen but GPs must be willing to offer something in return. What it was not prepared to do was “sign up and agree to a whole new contract that will be foisted on GPs struggling with capacity issues”.
The nurses’ dispute dominated a meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party last night where a number of TDs, including Marc MacSharry, said the current situation is not sustainable.
Mr MacSharry told the meeting that ministers are simply expensive commentators who are on auto pilot.
However, party leader Micheál Martin called for patience, adding that he had been through many crises in his political career and that the nurses’ dispute could be resolved.
In a separate development, Health Minister Simon Harris announced his intention to appoint Fred Barry, former chair of the National Roads Authority, to chair the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board. Mr
Barry replaces Tom Costello, who resigned at the weekend amid growing concerns around the escalating costs of the new children’s hospital, which now stands at €1.7bn.
The minister said Mr Barry’s “experience and leadership will be invaluable to ensuring the next phase of this project is delivered for future generations”.
The minister also confirmed that revised terms of reference for the PWC review into the cost escalation have been finalised.
The controversial reference to stopping short of holding individuals culpable has been removed and PWC has been given the additional task of developing recommendations around possible cost saving, as well as bringing “greater oversight of performance and value for money”.
The review will be completed by March 29, instead of March 22, “subject to availability of relevant documentation and personnel” and “will inform any governance or other changes required”.
The review will deal with the accountability of key parties, functions, and roles.