Union urges review of nursing staff levels

All maternity units must undergo an urgent “independent review” of nurse staff levels due to concerns over the damage caused by the health service recruitment ban.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation raised the issue last night on the eve of the union’s three-day annual conference, which begins today in Killarney, Co Kerry.

However, a strategy document for 2011-2014 published by the Department of Health last night said staffing level cutbacks would continue to play a key role in health service policy for at least the next three years.

Hitting out at the shrinking staff levels caused by the ongoing cost-cutting policy, INMO president Sheila Dickson said there may be a need for maternity service staffing in particular to be reviewed.

She added that the loss of 5,000 nurses and midwives from the system in five years — including 2,000 in the past 12 months alone — means minimum staff level safety standards and a confidential hotline for staff to alert authorities of chronic shortages should also be discussed.

“The recruitment moratorium remains a destructive, and irrational, tool which has, is, and will continue to do huge damage to frontline public health services,” said Ms Dickson.

“As we all know, nursing and midwifery lost nearly 2,000 posts in the past year.

“Since then nurses and midwives, and other health service colleagues, have worked miracles as they have sought to maintain healthcare, in the frontline, in the face of a massive depletion of resources within a short period of time.”

Among the other issues due for debate at this year’s conference, which will be attended by James Reilly, the health minister, on Friday, will be calls for a detailed study on the effects chronic staff shortages have on the mental health of over-stretched nurses facing “excessive workloads”.

Latest updates on the number of beds closed in public hospitals across the country and a trolley count emergency department analysis for the first four months of this year will also be published later today.

While nurses insist staff levels are at the centre of many of these long-term health service problems, the Department of Health’s Statement of Strategy 2011-2014, published yesterday, stated that staffing level cutbacks will continue to play a key role in health service policy.

“The reform programme must be progressed in what is economically and financially the most challenging period in the history of the State,” the document states.

“In order to meet unavoidable pressures and Government commitments, in excess of €2bn will have to be taken out of the health budget over the same period. The public sector reform plan provides for a total reduction of 23,500 by 2015 in the numbers employed across the public service compared to end-2010, and the health sector must make an appropriate contribution to this.”

* Further conference details and a full version of the department’s strategy document are available at www.inmo.ie

and www.dohc.ie


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