Health minister Simon Harris criticises Siptu strike plans

Health Minister Simon Harris has criticised Siptu’s decision to ask 30,000 health workers to go on strike over pay issues early next year, saying: “I don’t think a strike will help anybody”.

Mr Harris urged the union and HSE to meet “in the coming days” as he claimed a separate strike by 40,000 nurses could still be resolved before it begins next month.

Speaking to reporters at a nursing recruitment drive at the HSE’s headquarters in Dr Steevens’ Hospital in Dublin, Mr Harris said he “regrets” both union decisions and urged the sides to find a resolution.

Union and HSE officials should work together to end the disputes without affecting patients, he added.

“The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation obviously balloted [last month] and whilst I regret the outcome I note the Lansdowne Road oversight committee has instructed the HSE and Department of Health would meet the INMO,” he said.

“That discussion will take place in advance of the INMO’s executive council meeting in January, and I would really hope industrial action can be avoided because industrial action is not in the interests of staff and certainly not in the interests of patients.

“In relation to the Siptu ballot, I must say I am disappointed.

“I don’t think a ballot, I don’t think a strike, will help anybody. You only ever resolve a dispute by sitting down and talking, and I really hope both Siptu and the HSE will do that in the coming days.”

While the issues are separate, the risk of two strikes by 70,000 hospital workers early next year poses significant problems to Government claims the health service crisis has ended.

Last month, the INMO confirmed its 40,000 members had voted for industrial action, beginning with one-day stoppages from late next month over calls for accelerated restoration of pre-crash pay levels and the fast-tracking of measures to address staff shortages.

They were followed this week by Siptu, which on Wednesday confirmed it is balloting its 30,000 health worker members for similar pay and work issues. The workers include healthcare assistants, home help, porters, and operating theatre cleaners, among others.

The strike concerns emerged as the HSE continues its three-day recruitment drive to encourage nurses to return to Ireland and work in the system.

Between Wednesday and today, more than 100 nurses from Britain, the US, and Ireland have attended interviews in Dublin about the possibility of returning to the service.

A total of 19 of the initial 36 interviewed on Wednesday have already been offered contracts, which the HSE’s Rosario Mannion said includes a €1,500 relocation package and a €35,000 salary.

Mr Harris said the recruitment drive is “the start” of wider moves to increase nurse numbers by 1,000 next year; his message is that “the health service wants you back”.

Pointing to the fact the number of patients medically fit to leave a hospital but unable to do so due to a lack of step-down facilities is “the lowest since 2011”, at 436, he said the system is improving after a decade of cutbacks.


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