CUH oncology nurses call for hiring timeline

Management at a hospital designated a “centre of excellence” for cancer care have until Monday to agree a timeframe for recruiting extra staff to an oncology ward that nurses claim is “seriously” understaffed.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has written to management at Cork University Hospital (CUH) informing them that oncology nurses will begin a work-to-rule on Tuesday, May 12, unless the HSE agrees a clinical and recruitment action plan to “address the current crisis in oncology” at CUH.

INMO industrial relations officer Patsy Doyle said that while some progress had been made since last Friday, they were still looking for specific dates as to when extra nurses would be hired.

“There is a commitment to recruit but we have no dates on anything at the moment,” said Ms Doyle. “The talks have been positive, but when we try and tie them [management] to a timeline, we haven’t been able to do that.”

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Ms Doyle said that they had been trying for six months to ensure “safe levels of nursing care” on the oncology ward, which, despite being “promoted by the HSE as a centre of excellence” was “seriously short-staffed” and “bereft of a plan to address the surge in complexity of oncology treatments”.

Since last November, the INMO said it had asked CUH management to implement agreed nurse staffing levels — but that the ward is left “three to four nurses short per week, without replacement”.

The union has also called for a nurse staffing review “to address the major advancements in clinical treatment regimes” since the ward opened nine years ago.

It is also seeking:

  • Ring-fenced beds for oncology patients;
  • Four nurses on night duty to address patient need;
  • Co-location of the current truncated two-ward system into a single condensed unit of care.

In addition, the INMO has called for the recruitment of clinical nurse managers; education and training opportunities at ward and University College Cork level; and support for nurses in dealing with traumatic cases.

Ms Doyle said that while the nurses were loathe to take industrial action “in light of the area in which the disruption will occur”, they felt they had no option.

Essential patient care will not be disrupted by the work-to-rule but non-essential/administrative work will not be done.

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Ms Doyle said the oncology ward was “meant to be exempted from the [staff recruitment] moratorium” under the National Cancer Strategy.

The HSE said last night that it was “continuing with active recruitment at present”.

The HSE is also dealing with staffing problems in relation to a new €15m acute psychiatric unit at CUH.

The unit should have opened last January but nurses and doctors objected to the move on the grounds that the proposed staffing was inadequate.

The matter was at the LRC last week and both the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) and Siptu are due to put revised proposals to members. The 50-bed unit is due to replace the existing ‘GF’ unit which in turn will be used to expand cancer services.

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