Last-minute bid to avert looming nurses' strike continues

Labour Court: Attempts to stop what is expected to be widespread disruption continue

The HSE’s chief clinical officer warned there would be “reduced levels of care” in emergency departments and hospitals on Wednesday. Dr Colm Henry  said even if the strike was called off it would not be a case of normal service resuming. Photograph: Getty Images

The HSE’s chief clinical officer warned there would be “reduced levels of care” in emergency departments and hospitals on Wednesday. Dr Colm Henry said even if the strike was called off it would not be a case of normal service resuming. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Unions said on Monday night that preparations were continuing for a major national strike by nurses as last-minute attempts continued in the Labour Court to head off the dispute.

The Labour Court invited the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) to exploratory talks on Monday afternoon, less than 48 hours before nearly 40,000 nurses were scheduled to commence the first of six work stoppages.

The HSE believes the strike will lead to widespread disruption to services on Wednesday, with more than 15,000 patients facing the cancellation of planned procedures or out-patient appointments.

Last night the Labour Court was seeking to determine whether there was a basis for a formal intervention in the dispute after meeting with the parties.

While the INMO is planning to hold a 24-hour stoppage on Wednesday, psychiatric nurses are scheduled to commence an overtime ban on Thursday.

The Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) has said it will escalate its campaign to work stoppages towards the middle of February.

The nursing unions are seeking pay parity with other graduate-entry health service grades such as physiotherapists. Nurses maintain they are paid about €7,000 per year less than groups such as physiotherapists. They argue such rises are needed to tackle recruitment and retention problems in the health service.

The Government has argued that the provision of special pay rises to nurses would undermine the current public service agreement and lead to knock-on claims elsewhere across the public services.

Some informed sources said the Government could look at areas such as a review of the role of nurses. However, sources said the Government was resisting any form of financial “downpayment to nurses” in advance.

Wage agreements

Tánaiste Simon Coveney on Monday said the Government was anxious to avoid the industrial action by nurses which would cause significant disruption. However, he warned that any resolution could not breach national wage agreements.

Nurses are due to hold a national one-hour work stoppage this Wednesday. Photograph: Collins
Nurses are due to hold a national one-hour work stoppage this Wednesday. File photograph: Collins

“Of course we are concerned. An all-out nurses’ strike on Wednesday would cause very, very significant disruption for patients.

“I hope that we will be able to find a way of avoiding strike action on Wednesday by working with nurses’ unions to find a way forward that they can accept but that is also consistent with the wage agreements.”

Ahead of the talks at the Labour Court, the INMO said the ball was firmly in the Government’s court. “They need to make serious proposals if they are to avert industrial action.

Earlier the HSE’s chief clinical officer warned there would be “reduced levels of care” in emergency departments and hospitals on Wednesday. Dr Colm Henry also said that even if the strike was called off it would not be a case of normal service resuming.

“It is a strike there will be a reduced level of care. Even if the strike is called off reactivation may not be as neat as we would like. It won’t be a normal day.”

Compromised

Also on Monday, emergency department doctors expressed concern about patient safety implications. The Irish Association for Emergency Medicine (IAEM) said if there were insufficient nurses available “patient care will inevitably be compromised”.

IAEM president Dr Emily O’Conor said the association believed normal nursing staff levels were required to be able to deal safely with patients attending, particularly as alternative services such as local injury units would be closed as a result of the industrial action.

In a letter to the HSE and the INMO, Dr O’Conor said: “As an absolute minimum therefore we are of the view that the staffing configuration that would apply on Christmas Day should be what is provided to the country’s emergency departments during the period of industrial action.

“Unfortunately anything less than this will [have] significantly risk adverse impacts for patients and genuine harm could occur. We appreciate that neither of these eventualities is in the interest of the parties involved.”