Drogheda nurses’ strike: ‘It is heartbreaking that we cannot retain our graduates’

Midwife at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital says staff have been warning about shortages for years

Striking nurses from the Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation (INMO) protest outside Naas General Hospital in Co Kildare in a row over pay and staffing levels. Photograph:  Niall Carson/PA Wire

Striking nurses from the Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation (INMO) protest outside Naas General Hospital in Co Kildare in a row over pay and staffing levels. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The number of nurses providing emergency cover during Wednesday’s strike will become standard if something is not done to keep nurses in Ireland, a nurse on the picket line outside Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, Co Louth has said.

The hospital has 800 nurses and has one of the busiest emergency departments and maternity units in the country.

Nearly every passing vehicle honked its horn in support of the placard carrying nurses who have been picketing since 8am .

Members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) are staging the first in a series of six 24-hour work stoppages on Wednesday as part of a campaign to secure pay parity with other graduate-entry healthcare professional staff such as physiotherapists. The nurses maintain that such increases are needed to tackle recruitment and retention problems in the health service.

Nurse Melissa Garvey said there are 2,600 less nurses now than in 2007 and there is a reason so many go abroad.

“The quality of life is much better and the cost of living is much more affordable on a nurse’s salary abroad than it is here.”

“Typically in other allied professions, the starting salaries are in and around €7,000 above what a nurse’s salary is for the same four year, Level 8 qualification.

“This situation we have today is where we are providing emergency cover, (but) that is what the future will look like unless something substantially changes within nursing,” she said.

Karen Clarke, clinical placement co-ordinator, works with nursing students and said, “We do train enough nurses in this country, however, they are not staying.”

“They will tell you they have been approached by other countries around the world. They are very much sought after so it is heartbreaking for us to see all the work we have put into our graduates and the nurses we are training in Ireland and we we cannot recruit them and retain them.”

“We have seen huge support from fellow nurses in Saudi Arabia and different parts of Australia, London . . .They are all our graduate nurses over there.”

She said the message to Government from the nurses supporting them from overseas is, “Give us a reason to come home.”

Nurses around the world have put photographs of them with banners supporting the strike on social media.

Ms Clarke said, “they have a reason to live there. The conditions, the pay, is much better where they are and they have to stay there because they can’t live in this country.”

Lucrative offers from abroad

Joining them on the picket line was fourth year nursing student James Leonard from Drogheda.

Unlike many of his classmates he said, “I would like to stay on (in Ireland) for the first couple of years. I know a lot of my class are already looking at Australia and Canada. ”

He said fellow students are tempted to go abroad after a career’s fair for nursing last year. “There were interviewers there from Australia and Canada. There were lucrative offers from the UK for relocation packages.”

He said one hospital in London was offering three months pay in advance as well as, “relocation fees. They will have your bank account set up, even your flights sorted. Simple things that just attract the students more and (there are)proper staffing levels as well.”

Midwife Mary Gorman said the frustrating thing for nurses is they have been warning about this problem for years.

“We have been in this situation for a number of years and we have highlighted it and we have exhausted every measure to try and recruit and retain staff.”

There was support for the nurses from patients who ventured for fresh air close to the pickets.

David Stanley, Bettystown, Co Meath has been a patient since Monday and is being treated for an infection.

He said, “the nurses do a great job, they should get what they are asking for. The care I have received has been very good.”

Veronica McGuinness from Stabannon,Co Louth who has been in hospital for a week said the nurses are “all very good” but under-staffed”.

She said the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Heath Simon Harris “should be ashamed of themselves.”

INMO representative David Miskell said nurses go home from work, “tired, stressed out and frustrated.”

“Burn out is a big issue and people are unfortunately making the decision to leave and it is regrettable.”

As a result of the strike here were no outpatient clinics including antenatal clinics at Our Lady of Lourdes on Wednesday but while there was service in the labour ward and maternity unit and emergency department and paediatrics, all scheduled care was cancelled.

Nurses were also on strike at the Louth County Hospital, Dundalk; Cavan General Hospital; Monaghan General Hospital and Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan, Co Meath.