HSE are intimidating workers, claims union

THE Irish Nurses Organisation has accused the Health Service Executive of attempting to threaten and intimidate nurses individually at some hospitals as part of an increasingly bitter row over pay and conditions for nursing staff.

Nurses at St Vincent’s Hospital, Elm Park, Dublin — which is one of the hospitals targeted for the first in a series of one-hour stoppages tomorrow — were issued with a letter at the weekend which the INO claims questions their professional registration and professional indemnity cover.

An INO spokesperson described the content of the letter as “distasteful”.

“It is an attempt to frighten people. It’s just one of a growing number of episodes of intimidation and harassment by hospital management since the dispute began,” said the spokesperson.

He claimed the letters insinuated that nurses could be struck off the register as a result of their industrial action.

“I can’t emphasis the amount of secretarial, clerical duties we have to perform and they just take us away from the work we’ve always wanted to do.”

Other nurses at the hospital complained yesterday that they had been approached on an individual basis by hospital managers to persuade them to go back to work in an attempt to circumvent the impact of their work-to-rule protest.

Somewhat ironically, nurses argue that one of the effects of their industrial action is that patient care has actually improved since they began a work-to-rule ten days ago.

Although such a claim can be seen as part of the expected posturing adopted by nurses as they battle with the HSE and Government for the hearts and minds of the Irish public in a dispute that is set to get worse and more entrenched before its inevitable resolution, it also contains more than a vestige of mere propaganda.

“Patients like when there’s no phones ringing and nurses have more time to spend with us. That’s the general consensus. Their nursing care is not being affected,” said Siobhan Everard, a staff nurse at St Vincent’s Hospital.

She maintained that patients were very supportive of the nurses’ action after being reassured about the level of care that would be maintained during the stoppages.

Ms Everard said nurses were not afraid to escalate the dispute as they were determined to succeed in their claim for better pay and working conditions.

“Every nurse in the country is determined to have their demands met,” she observed.

She also predicted that tomorrow’s one-hour stoppage, which will start at 11am, would prove disruptive, even though she maintained that such disruption should be kept to a minimum if St Vincent’s was in a position to fully implement its contingency plan.

“The work we do is absolutely vital. If we’re not there, things grind to a halt. Nurses are the life blood of the hospital. We are the glue that holds the whole thing together,” said Ms Everard.

Her colleague, Sarah Steen, a clinical nurse manager at St Vincent’s, insisted that the nurses’ industrial action was having very little impact on patient safety and care.

“It’s had a big impact on the administrative area with hospital managers have to work harder,” Ms Steen observed.

“From a patient’s perspective, care has never been better,” she said.

Both nurses said they were surprised at how senior HSE management were handling the dispute, even though they didn’t let if affect them personally.

However, they also agreed that it made working relations on the ground in hospitals more stressful.

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