Tipperary nurses’ strike: ‘I’m here because we’re just at the end of our tether’

Patient to staff ratio in children’s ward can be as high as 8:1 instead of 3:1, Tipperary nurses say

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

 

Nurses at South Tipperary General Hospital say that the patient to staff ratio in the children’s ward can be as high as eight to one at times of emergency rather than the recommended three to one, or two to one for a paediatric unit.

“We don’t have that [the recommended ratio] and are not likely to have that, particularly with the appalling mess the Government have us in now with the National Children’s Hospital,” senior paediatric nurse and member of the strike committee at the hospital in Clonmel Noelle Murphy said on the picket line on Wednesday. “Any money is going to go to that and anything on the periphery won’t get anything.”

Up to 300 nurses at the Clonmel hospital went on strike and are operating two-hour blocks on the picket line, with a certain percentage providing necessary cover and others on night duty.

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. The strike began at 8am.

“I’m here because we’re just at the end of our tether with it,” Ms Murphy said. “We’re also here on behalf of our patients, to try and improve things. If we just maintain what we are doing now, we’re never going to improve anything. We need more staff to get improvements for all patients, young and old.”

The current strike is “not about pay, solely,” she said, “but pay is one aspect that’s going to have to be looked at.”

Co-chair of the strike committee at Clonmel, Adette O’Connor, said the dispute is “about patient care, about patient safety,” and with current staffing levels “we can’t do that”.

The apparent gap between the two sides, which the Labour Court wasn’t able to bridge on Tuesday, “is a big worry,” Ms O’Connor said, “but . . . there are mechanisms within the existing paraphernalia of solving disputes that could solve this. Even though we are poles apart there is nothing to stop us sitting down and solving this with a resolution that’s mutually agreeable to both sides.”

In South Tipperary General Hospital nurses come into work and maybe they should have three or four colleagues with them, they might come and only have two. So two nurses might be expected to do the job of four. And it’s not as if nursing management are not trying to solve the problem, the nurses just aren’t there. They’ve moved, they’ve gone to Australia, they’ve gone to Canada, they’ve gone to America, to the Middle East, they’ve gone to the UK, where they have better conditions, better pay and they have more colleagues to work with them,” she said.

The nurses have had “nothing but support” from other medical staff in the hospital as well as patients and their families, she said. “The public shouldn’t be worried that we’re not looking after the patients. We’re here and the strike committee are co-ordinating and when there’s a deteriorating patient or someone who needs extra help, we’re providing that. Nobody is left out in the cold.”

She said a colleague, “a young doctor that I work with on a regular basis, he actually came up to me and said what he could do to help us today, and he was going to go to the shop and buy some tea and coffee and send it down to us. All our professional colleagues recognise that we’re in a no-win situation and we have to take this action and everybody knows it’s reluctant measure but it has to be done.”