Thousands of nurses and nursing graduates will not return to this country unless the profession is respected and properly rewarded.
The claim was made at the annual Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation delegates conference where restoration of pay and improved working conditions topped the agenda.
Frustration at €3.6bn worth of cuts in the service was to the fore as nurses warned that their work had turned from “patient-centred care” to “ticking boxes and meeting targets”.
“The banks got a bailout of billions.
“The health service needs a bailout — it’s unbelievable. There are patients everywhere. There are no nurses,” said INMO vice-president Geraldine Talty.
“The skills mix is terrible. And we’re not getting the supports we require at a higher level.”
INMO president Claire Mahon said: “The key issues are overcrowding, short staffing, workload, and intolerable working conditions.
“They (nurses and midwives) have huge concerns over quality of care and pay restoration is a big issue for them.”
With some 7,000 nurses having emigrated since the recession began, the INMO is calling for improved terms and conditions to entice nurses to take up posts here.
“Recruiting our young nurses back to this country is going to take a very concerted effort. We need to start valuing them,” Ms Mahon said.
INMO general secretary Liam Doran said: “If you don’t improve the staffing levels, the workload issue is not going to improve.
“Word has gone around: Workloads are intolerable, the hours are long, the educational opportunities are minimal because they’ve all been cut.
“This Government has spent the last six months saying, ‘We’ve turned a corner, the exports are good, there’s cranes appearing in the skyline’ and so on.
“There are people in this room with no sense of that at all. The bills get bigger,” he said.
“The pay has remained static. The payback has to start, it has to be a reasonable restoration.”
Ms Talty said: “Why would you come back to this country and work in Ireland as a nurse when you can get so much more in other countries?
“I could get an awful lot more money in any of the other countries, like the UK, Australia, Canada. I’m respected, I’m rewarded, I recognise my contribution to healthcare in all of those countries, I have proper hours and I’m treated equally and I can increase the training in educational health and a system you can specialise in.
“We need all of the nurses we have lost to come back but they’re not going to come back if they’re not going to be respected and rewarded.”
INMO second vice-president David O’Brien said that waiting times in emergency departments need to be reduced. “We have a situation where the abnormal has become the norm,” he said.
Patients suffer when nursing numbers are cut, a senior executive council member of the INMO warned yesterday.
Midlands-based Geraldine Talty claimed with cutbacks, there was the risks of “more deaths, more falls, more urinary-tract infections and more failure to resuscitate”.
The union vice-president said: “In emergency departments, the poor old patients. They’re vomiting on top of one another. Once they come in it’s about getting them home, get them out. It’s all about targets.
“The first thing we do when a patient comes through the door is estimate the date of discharge.”
Ms Talty, a clinical nursing manager, said the targets’ systems mean that you have to have patients through the emergency departments within a specific timeframe for example, but often, patients are just moved into a ward on their trolley so they’re literally just moved a few yards.
“Since 2009, we’ve been cut, cut, cut. You go into a ward now and it’s really difficult to find a nurse,” she said.
Union president Claire Mahon claimed nurses regularly take no breaks during their shifts. “Nobody minds it the odd day but it’s a regular thing. We have nurses in older patient services at night with no rostered break, even though they’re deducted for it.”
Ms Talty said a new buzzword in nursing was ‘presenteeism’: being present but being sick.
“You’ll hear people say, I’ll go in because Mary is on her own so you’re in but you’re not giving your all to the work. I cannot explain to you how shocking it is.
“Absenteeism is huge because we’re completely exhausted,” she said.
A number of nurses, stressed and exhausted, all related experiences about being over-worked and under-recognised.
One said: “There’s too much red tape involved now. I’ve missed birthdays, Christmases, the graduation Mass of my twins last year because I was on night duty. Those are things you can’t get back,” she said.
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