Nurses’ work-to-rule - Dispute could put lives at risk

NON-EMERGENCY operations are being cancelled due to the nurses’ work-to-rule, which begins today.

It was deferred last month to facilitate negotiations between the nursing unions and health service management.

Some 40,000 nurses are demanding a pay increase of 10% and a 35-hour working week, which has long been promised.

There has been an element of unseemly brinksmanship in this dispute. In effect, there is a threat that the most vulnerable people in society — the sick — will be held to ransom.

Last week there was a confrontation over the opening of the Maternity Hospital in Cork. Nurses settled for an interim compromise in which it was agreed to open 128 of the 144 beds with a nursing compliment of 315 and an assurance that the full compliment will be recruited in the coming months to facilitate a full opening. A similar compromise proposal, without the assurance in relation to the extra hiring, was rejected days earlier by 98.5% of the midwives, supposedly due to concern over patient safety.

Are the public now being asked to believe that patient safety is being sacrificed or was the refusal to agree to that compromise last week just an industrial relations bargaining ploy? The nurses have a valid case in demanding the full compliment of nurses to open all the beds in the hospital, but they initially compromised their case with unjustifiable financial demands. The HSE has shown scant regard for the working conditions of nurses for so long that they were justified in insisting on proper staffing levels. It is human nature that people make mistakes when they are tired, but a nurse’s mistake can be fatal.

Nursing has always been a highly respected profession. The nurses serve in the front line. They are underpaid in comparison with their colleagues in other areas of the health service.

The HSE has a voracious appetite for public money but higher spending has not resulted in better performance. Last year, Professor Brendan Drumm, the chief executive of the HSE, told an Oireachtas health committee that he was afraid to say how many people died with MRSA as this “would frighten people”.

Four months later the HSE had not even begun to recruit the additional infection control staff for which funds had been allocated earlier in the year. Many sick people are now afraid to go into hospital for fear of contracting something worse. If hospital waiting lists are shortening, maybe it is because so many people would rather take the chance or recovering at home than becoming sicker in hospital.

Nurses have had to bear the brunt of this gross bungling and administrative inefficiency, so their frustration is understandable.

The HSE and the nurses need to get their acts together, because ultimately this dispute could put people’s lives at risk.

More in this section

Cookie Policy Privacy Policy FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Irish Examiner Ltd