The country’s nurses have voted overwhelmingly for industrial action which they say will lead to beds being closed and services shut down.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has given health service employers until mid-January to respond to their demands or else the industrial action will kick off.
The ballot, in response to the Department’s failure to address long-term staffing shortages, allows for a continuous work to rule and a possible series of one day nursing and midwifery strikes.
Under the work to rule, nurses will not work additional hours or overtime and neither will they provide cover from one community care area to another or from ward to another.
According to the INMO, “the work to rule will be designed to confine services to that appropriate to the nurse and midwifery staffing levels available. It will, therefore, inevitably lead to the closure of beds and the curtailment of services across the country”.
Some 90% of the INMO members who voted backed the industrial action. Up to 62% of union members voted.
According to the INMO, the Department of Health’s failure to hire sufficient numbers and its failure to retain staff is impacting on patient care and nurses’ ability to practice safely. It says that nursing and midwife numbers are 3,500 less than they were in 2008.
It is seeking “immediate round-table talks” with the Department of Health aimed at agreeing “special measures to address the staffing crisis”.
If such measures aren’t agreed, it wants agreement between both sides on the specific services that should be curtailed “so that service activity is aligned with available staffing levels”.
The INMO executive council will meet on January 17 to review management’s response and agree the next steps in their campaign.
INMO president Martina Harkin-Kelly said: “Our members have suffered eight years of staff shortages, excessive workloads and having their voice, and professional judgment, ignored by the system which is fixated on budgets and targets and certainly not on patients and quality of care.
“The responsibility now rests with management to engage with this organisation in the coming weeks and agree the necessary initiatives to address this problem,” she said.
Last night, Health Minister Simon Harris said health service employers are actively trying to recruit nurses and midwives.
He said the HSE is offering permanent posts to 2016 graduates, is offering permanent contracts to those in temporary posts and is focused on converting agency staffing to permanent posts.
“Following a Government decision in October incremental credit for the 36-week clinical placement undertaken by fourth-year student nurses will now be restored for all graduates from January 1, having been abolished by the then Government in 2010.” he added.
He also reminded the union that discussions on a successor the Lansdowne Road agreement will begin once the Public Service Pay Commission report.
“Discussions with all parties who signed up to the Lansdowne Road Agreement are expected to commence next month and conclude before the end of January. These discussions will seek to address anomalies arising from the recent recommendations issued by the Labour Court in relation to the industrial relations disputes with members of An Garda Síochána,” he said.
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