Hospitals face prospect of industrial unrest

By Catherine Shanahan and David Raleigh

The prospect of widespread industrial unrest in the health service is looming as both nurses and hospital consultants vent their frustration at Government failure to tackle concerns over pay and emergency department (ED) overcrowding.

A lunchtime protest by nurses and midwives outside CUH/CUMH in Cork regarding recruitment and the trolley crisis. Picture: Denis Minihane

Up to 250 nurses joined a protest at the main gates of Cork University Hospital yesterday and about 100 nurses protested outside University Hospital Limerick (UHL) demanding the HSE plan for an expected winter increase in patients.

Figures from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) show August was the worst on record for overcrowding with 7,911 patients on chairs or trolleys, an increase of 2% on last year.

In Limerick, nurses described hellish conditions inside UHL where 48 patients were on trolleys today.

A decade ago all 24-hour EDs in the Mid-West region — at Ennis General, St John’s Limerick, and Nenagh General — were reconfigured to UHL. A €24m ED opened at the hospital last year.

However, according to nurses, the trolley crisis has actually worsened, with patients being placed on trolleys in wards.

Under a nationwide escalation policy, hospitals can place extra patients on wards to take the pressure off EDs but it was only envisaged in extreme circumstances.

Mary Fogarty, INMO spokesperson in the Mid-West, said there were about 75 nursing vacancies in UHL.

In Cork, INMO spokesperson Liam Conway said the HSE, having exhausted all other avenues to recruit nurses, now needed to address pay. A report last week from the Public Service Pay Commission said there were “no generalised recruitment and retention problems in the nursing and midwifery sectors”.

However, the INMO disputes the claims and is planning a special delegate conference for September 26 to decide on a plan of action.

Separately, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) is conducting a national survey of consultant members to see what level of industrial action may be undertaken if Government fails to address the pay inequality between consultants employed before, and after, October 2012. The latter were subject to a 30% pay cut.

IMO president Dr Peadar Gilligan said the differential in pay is greater than other categories of public servants (average pay cut of 10%) and “consultants working beside each other and doing the same job with the same level of responsibility and qualifications are being paid significantly poorer rates of pay”.

The pay difference will rise to about €50,000 in the coming months.

Dr Gilligan said “doctors, in general, have not traditionally tended to engage in industrial action” but that all recent efforts by the IMO to address the matter had been rejected.

The prospect of widespread industrial unrest in the health service is looming as both nurses and hospital consultants vent their frustration at Government failure to tackle concerns over pay and emergency department (ED) overcrowding.


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