A second nurses’ union has announced strike plans intensifying the prospect of widespread disruption to the health service in two weeks' time.
The Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) has taken a similar tack to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) by announcing an extended plan of industrial action, beginning on January 31, with a refusal to work overtime.
The action will take place a day after the first of six national 24-hour strikes planned by the INMO when its 37,000 members withdraw from providing all but emergency and life-saving cover.
The psychiatric nurses’ campaign is one of escalating action, with an overtime ban effective on January 31, and February 5, 6 and 7, escalating to strike on February 12, 13, and 14.
Some of the PNA dates overlap with the INMO’s 24-hour strikes which are scheduled for January 30, as well as the 5, 7, 12, 13 and 14 of February.
Both disputes centre on pay and staffing shortages. The INMO is seeking a 12% pay hike and says it cannot recruit and retain nurses on current pay levels.
PNA general secretary Peter Hughes said the recruitment and retention crisis in psychiatric nursing was “escalating on a monthly basis”, with a 40% increase in vacancies between November 2017 and September 2018.
He described this level of vacancies as “unsustainable”, saying that it was seriously impacting on service delivery and patient care.
He said staff shortages needed to be addressed with realistic proposals from government "as a matter of extreme urgency".
The government has repeatedly insisted that the nurses’ pay claims are unaffordable, and would trigger knock-on claims across the public service.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Simon Harris said the Minister did not believe that industrial action was warranted and believed there was a clear need for engagement.
Sinn Féin health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly said Fine Gael had been in government for almost eight years, “and despite every opportunity to address the nursing recruitment and retention crisis in the health service, they have completely failed”.
Separately some hospitals continue to struggle with a surge in patient numbers attending emergency departments.
In the South/Southwest hospital group a series of measures are being implemented including suspending “some elective surgery” so that people who represent at the ED are kept “moving through the system”.
The group also said it was making 30 transitional care beds available outside of acute hospitals to reduce delayed discharges; opening additional orthopaedic /trauma rehab beds in February and establishing a Frailty Intervention Therapy Team (FITT) team in the ED at Cork University Hospital.