Patients' lives at risk over shortage of nurses on wards, conference hears

Fri, May 6, 2011, 01:00

THERE ARE not enough nurses on some hospital wards to wash, feed and keep patients alive, an experienced nurse claimed yesterday.

Breedge Scanlon told the second day of the annual conference of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation in Kilkenny that she worked on a ward at St John’s Community Hospital in Sligo which had 43 patients, but staffing levels there had been gradually eroded since the moratorium on recruitment.

“We need enough nurses to give proper care to patients, that is, wash them, feed them and keep them alive. And we basically don’t have that now,” she said.

“In the ward that I work in there’s 43 patients and there have been times over the last few weeks when we just basically were not able to feed the patients that are totally dependent, and we made our management aware and nothing was done. We just have to do it some way or another. There was nothing put in. There was nothing done for us,” she added.

She urged colleagues to support a motion calling for the introduction of legislation that would underpin safe nurse-to-patient ratios. The head of the HSE Cathal Magee said subsequently this was a matter for the Government rather than for him.

Ms Scanlon pointed out, when asked about her comments, that no patient was “being starved to death” and that nurses were doing the best they could to prioritise washing and feeding of patients but they were at breaking point.

Meanwhile, delegates voted to resist outright any attempt by hospital managers to place extra beds on wards to ease overcrowding in emergency departments. They reiterated their resolve to take industrial action in any hospital where extra beds were placed on wards, claiming it compromised the health of the entire hospital patient population.

Anne Burke, a nurse in the emergency department of University College Hospital, Galway, said at 4am one night recently, “we were left with one nurse to look after 40 overnight patients”, but when she approached her manager she was told this was the norm. “We should never accept this most abnormal of situations as the norm,” she insisted.

Dave Hughes, deputy general secretary of the INMO, said reports into the outbreak of C Difficile in two UK NHS trusts, in which 90 patients died, had found the determination of management to meet government targets for waiting times in emergency departments had contributed to the deaths.

He said overcrowding wards was “not a solution to the AE crisis” and if extra beds were put on wards in the Republic the same catastrophe in terms of patient deaths could happen as in the UK.

“People who are not speaking out against this are like those in the banking and financial sector who closed their eyes to what they knew was wrong,” he said.

Separately, delegates voted in support of the introduction of a law that would criminalise those who buy sex and not those who sell it. Sr Stanislaus Kennedy told the conference research carried out by the Immigrant Council of Ireland found there were at least 1,000 women available to be sold every day in Ireland and the vast majority of them were migrant women, some trafficked into the country to work in an industry worth €180 million a year.

Mary Barrett, a nurse from the Loughrea area of Co Galway, said the practice of buying sex was no longer confined to cities. “I live in a small town in the west of Ireland with a population of just over 4,000 people. Three brothels have been raided in my town in the past six months,” she said.