Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been inundated with letters from furious nurses and hospital staff and their families over his call for holiday leave to be postponed.
Correspondence sent to Mr Varadkar, obtained by the, shows the outrage expressed by health staff who say the Taoiseach’s remarks “hit out at frontline staff and demoralised a struggling nurse workforce”.
It was suggested to Mr Varadkar that nurses, who are set to strike next week over pay and conditions, should get better allowances, free meals, and parking.
The Taoiseach told the Dáil before Christmas that doctors and nurses should not take holidays over the festive period, arguing that the health service’s winter plan had not worked for years because hospitals essentially went into shutdown mode over the festive period and into early January.
One nurse wrote to him saying she was “disgusted and furious” over the comments. Nurses did not take extended leave over the Christmas period, she added, saying that his comments were “stupid”.
Maybe look at yourselves first with the stupid amount of holidays you get, your salaries and pensions,” said the letter, signed a “very annoyed, hardworking nurse”.
In another letter, a senior nurse said staff had worked through Storm Emma and “slept rough” in a hospital after being snowed in.
There was no annual leave for nurses over Christmas and all beds remain open, said the nurse.
“Your comments published as you dine out in Helsinki are much appreciated! Perhaps you’ll come visit the hospitals over your break,” Mr Varadkar was told.
The Taoiseach did, in fact, visit a hospital department over Christmas.
One intern in a hospital told Mr Varadkar by email that his holiday remarks were “ludicrous”.
“We undoubtedly will be working full whack over the Christmas period, unlike members of the Dáil,” the intern said in correspondence obtained under Freedom of Information. “Telling people they cannot take annual leave around the Christmas period is not just disrespectful, it is downright illegal.
I thought you would have more sympathy for the real people running the health service, given your medical background.
“We are not the problem. A poor health service governed by the joke that is the HSE is [the problem].”
Some of the emails warned Mr Varadkar and the Government that comments about staff taking time off were adding to the reasons for nurses choosing not to stay in Ireland but to instead work abroad.
One annoyed hospital laboratory worker complained that Christmas family arrangements took second place when it came to being on duty.
The “disappointed” technician wrote: “The laboratories work 24-hour on-site cover seven days a week, 365 days a year. My husband has stalled the arrival of Santa when I worked Christmas Eve.”
A family member with two relatives working in Dublin hospitals expressed disgust at the remarks about holidays and a suggestion doctors or nurses on leave were to blame for closed beds.
“I think Leo is blaming a very hard working staff for the Government’s mess over the years. I have supported Leo but take a very dim view of his take on the situation.”