The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has warned that the first day of strike action will be followed up by further days in mid- to late January in the absence of progress on a range of critical issues.
Strike action will take place between 8am and 4pm at Beaumont and Tallaght hospitals in Dublin; Mercy Hospital, Cork; Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore; Cavan General Hospital; and University Hospital Galway.
The strike action follows the breakdown of talks after four days at the Workplace Relations Commissions.
At a press conference at INMO headquarters in Dublin yesterday, general secretary Liam Doran said management had made no specific proposals to alleviate the recruitment or retention crisis.
According to the INMO, the strike action will see nurses completely withdrawing from emergency departments (ED) in the affected hospitals, while maintaining an emergency response team in an adjacent area.
Employers have claimed that the main outstanding issues related to pay and have alleged that the union’s demands would cost €40m a year and breach the Lansdowne Road agreement.
However, the INMO has stated that it did not, at any stage, lodge a general pay claim for all nurses in EDs or seek to depart from the terms of the Lansdowne Road Agreement.
Assistant general secretary Dave Hughes said an agreement had been reached with the HSE about the filling of clinical nurse manager positions and incremental pay for graduate recruits but the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform had subsequently overruled the health authority.
The seven affected hospitals will have contingency plans to minimise the effect of the industrial action on patients but it is likely that some non-urgent elective procedures will be cancelled.
The hospitals’ emergency departments will remain open during the strike but people are being advised to attend their GP or pharmacist first and only go to an ED if it is absolutely essential.
Mr Doran said management had a target of 236 patients on trolleys as the daily average but that meant that EDs had to have sufficient staff and resources to deal with that kind of reality.
He said the ED dispute was about recognising that overcrowding would occur for the foreseeable future and the need to equip the departments in a manner that would make them acceptable places for patient care and to work in.
Mr Doran said politicians should “hang their heads in shame” for what nurses have had to endure for the past 12 years.
‘Only time’ before ED overcrowding kills
An emergency department (ED) nurse warned yesterday it was “only a matter of time” before more patients died because of overcrowding.
Marina O’Flanaghan, who has worked for six years as a staff nurse at University Hospital Galway, said experienced nurses were able to pick out the sick patients.
However, nurses who had put up with chronic overcrowding for years were leaving and she was fearful of the consequences.
“Experienced nurses can glance at the waiting room and pick out the sick patients,”said Marina. “That’s why more patients are not dying but we are losing them because they can’t stand the situation any longer.”
She was one of a number of ED nurses at a press conference held by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation to confirm next Tuesday’s two-hour rolling stoppages in seven hospitals.
Marina said patients attending the ED were not getting adequate and timely care.
“They are not getting their nursing needs met and that has to have a knock-on effect on their overall care,” she said.
Maura Cray, a staff nurse working in the ED of a large hospital in Dublin said she had lit a candle and prayed for a solution to the ED crisis.
“I am not in it for the money. This is not about me benefitting from the situation,” said Maura.
“I am calling on the Minister for Health Leo Varadkar and on the Taoiseach to do something about this and look after my colleagues.
“I see patients sitting on chairs overnight receiving blood transfusions. The department where I work can fit 26 trolleys. That’s it. We would regularly have over 30 patients admitted.”
Maura said she often broke down at the end of a shift.
“My colleagues are the only ones who understand what I am going through,” she said.
Karen McGowan, who also works in the ED of a very busy Dublin hospital, described her working conditions as “absolutely horrendous”.
Karen said it was not about money for nurses, it was about money for a health system that has been crumbling for years.
“I feel absolutely demoralised. I am not doing the job I am trained to do. The patients are packed up like sardines,” she said.
“It is physically and emotionally demanding but you do it because you are there for the patient and you are trying to do your best by them.”
Asked if she felt that any patient’s death had been hastened or caused by overcrowding, Karen said there were probably incidents where death had occurred because of the situation.