HSE warns of more disruption to services after nurses’ strike day

INMO reject Government claims that meeting demands will cost €300 million

January 30th, 2019: A 24-hour strike by nearly 40,000 nurses and midwives belonging to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation is taking place nationwide. A further five 24-hour strikes have been scheduled over the coming fortnight. Video: Bryan O'Brien

 

The Health Service Executive has warned of further disruption to health services on Thursday despite the 24-hour strike by nurses coming to an end.

And while it plans to reschedule the 2,000 procedures cancelled as a result of the dispute over the next two to three weeks, it has warned this may not happened if further planned one-day strikes go ahead next week.

Attendances at hospital emergency departments (EDs) fell on Wednesday at the public heeded the HSE’s called to go “only if absolutely necessary” but numbers are expected to increase again on Thursday, when services return to normal.

CervicalCheck campaigner Vicky Phelan shows her support for nurses on the picket line in Limerick.
CervicalCheck campaigner Vicky Phelan shows her support for nurses on the picket line in Limerick.

The HSE said there were 372 patients on trolleys on Wednesday morning, compared to 474 on the same day last year, as the public took note of warnings to stay away from EDs if possible during the strike.

On a typical day, 3,000 people present to EDs, of whom 750 are admitted.

 

Lower pay

As the strike began, nurses said their pay in 2020, when the current public service agreement expired, would still be lower than what it was in 2008.

They also maintained that they were working longer hours than they were in 2008 before the economic crash.

Speaking at the start of a 24-hour strike on Wednesday, the general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) Phil Ní Sheaghdha said the cost of resolving the current dispute would be nowhere near the €300 million estimate put forward by the Government.

Nurses on strike outside Connolly Hospital in Dublin on Wednesday. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
Nurses on strike outside Connolly Hospital in Dublin on Wednesday. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

“We believe there are many ways to resolve the dispute within the existing public service agreement.

“We need Government to understand that and come to the table with a mindset of, let’s get in to the business of looking at how do we resolve the crisis in recruitment and retention.”

Asked about figures released by the Government which suggest nurses will receive significant increases over the coming years under the current agreement, Ms Ní Sheaghdha said the reality was pay that had been cut previously was now being restored.

She said in the UK health authorities were looking to recruit nurses in Ireland.

“They are recruiting them aggressively. We have job fairs practically every week from Australia, Canada and the UK.”

“We have a global shortage of nurses. Nurses in Ireland need to be valued. We need to make sure we retain them by paying them a salary that is competitive and equal to their qualification.”

Rejected claim

The Department of Public Expenditure strongly rejected the assertion by the INMO and defended its position that meeting the pay demands by nurses would cost €300 million.

It said any staff nurse or senior staff nurse who was employed in 2008 would be earning more in 2020 than they were at that stage.

“For example a staff nurse on the max of the scale in 2008 (€46,541) will be on €47,431 by 2020, if they haven’t been promoted in the interim,” a statement said.

INMO members from Connolly Hospital at the start of the nurses 24-hour strike, pictured on a bridge above the M50 motorway Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
INMO members from Connolly Hospital at the start of the nurses 24-hour strike, pictured on a bridge above the M50 motorway Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Ms Ní Sheaghdha indicated if there was no resolution there could be additional strikes by nurses over and above the six 24-hour stoppages already announced.

She said the mood of nurses and midwives was “very resolute”. She said they believed the issue had to be addressed now but they were willing to negotiate and that is what they wanted to do.

She said the ball was in the Government’s court to come to the table with a mindset to resolve the dispute.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said she did not believe the INMO had stepped outside the terms of the public service agreement, which could lead to financial penalties being applied to union members as a result of the strike on Wednesday.

She said the Government had forced the current situation on nurses. She said the Government had not put forward any proposals to deal with the recruitment and retention issue.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said nurses were “overwhelmed “ by the levels of support they were receiving from the public.

Contingencies

Speaking at a briefing by HSE officials, deputy director Angela Fitzgerald said there had been good collaboration with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation to help resolve any issues that had arisen during industrial action during the day.

HSE managers and union officials discussed contingency arrangements every two hours, while headquarters staff also had regular contact with regional managers across the State’s hospitals.

Cancer surgery had gone ahead as planned “in the main”, she said.

Discussions with the union about contingency arrangements for two further one-day strikes planned for next week are to take place on Thursday.

Nurse’s strike outside Connolly Hospital in Dublin on Wednesday. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
Nurse’s strike outside Connolly Hospital in Dublin on Wednesday. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Officials asked the public to check on older people living in their area who would not have received a planned health visit due to the strike. Bernard Gloster, chief executive, community healthcare, said that due to the increased number of older people alone at home and the cold weather, neighbours should be extra-vigilant in checking on their welfare.

“This can often be the difference between a person being able to remain at home and presenting at an ED.”