Health strike having ‘significant impact’ on patient services - HSE

Siptu agrees to further WRC talks in attempt to halt three further days of action next week

HSE support workers, members of the SIPTU Trade union from 38 hospitals and healthcare facilities are striking over what they claim is the government’s failure to ‘meaningfully engage’ with pay restoration talks. Video: Bryan O'Brien / David Raleigh

 

More than 2,000 surgical and scope procedures and outpatient appointments have been cancelled on Wednesday as a result of a 24-hour strike by 10,000 health care workers in a dispute over pay.

The HSE said the industrial action has created a challenging situation that is having a “significant impact” on patient services at 38 hospitals and facilities across the State.

It said difficulties had arisen since the strike began at 8am in maintaining “essential daily care” for inpatients such as nutrition, hydration, transfer of patients, cleaning and infection control.

Health care assistants, maternity care assistants, porters, laboratory aides, chefs, and surgical instrument technicians are striking as part of a dispute in which Siptu says they are entitled to increases of between €1,500 and €3,000 as a result of the findings of a job evaluation scheme.

However, the union has rejected a Government proposal for the phased payment of the money commencing in November and running to 2021.

Talks aimed at averting three further days of strike action next week are to reconvene at the Workplace Relations Commission on Thursday. Siptu said it had accepted an invitation to the talks but that the further stoppages next week had not been deferred.

Support

There was support for the striking hospital workers outside Cork University Hospital, where the parents of children with special needs said the health staff had their unequivocal backing.

Orla from Blarney said she was in and out of the hospital on a regular basis with her boy (6) who has special needs and is peg fed.

“The catering staff always look after me and I fully support them. Their workload is just getting bigger and bigger by the day,” she said. “I am generally here or in hospital in Dublin. I sleep in a chair or I jump in to bed alongside him if he is well enough. The staff are always there with a cup of tea and some food.”

Jennifer from Knocknaheeny said her son has been in hospital since his birth 8 eight and a half months ago and that her view was that staff deserve improvements to their pay and conditions.

“I am in and out of here on a 24-hour shift with my partner. The staff are great. They should be taken care of better.”

Catering staff on the picket line at CUH refuted suggestions by the HSE that the strike could have a significant impact on the nutritional intake of patients.

Siptu shop steward, Bridget Manning, who works in catering at CUH, says they entered in to a pay deal with the Government in good faith and this has been reneged on.

“We are taking a stand today. Nobody wants to be here today. Patient care is at the core of our being. We come here every day with a heart and a half and do the best we can do and the Government are not recognising us. “

Penalties

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government does not want to impose financial penalties on health service staff for going on strike and he urged Siptu to take its case to the Labour Court.

Under financial emergency legislation the Government can impose penalties on groups of workers deemed to have gone outside the public service agreement. Such penalties were imposed on second level teachers after a strike in 2016 but not on nurses on foot of their recent dispute.

“The public sector pay agreement is clear that if a union breaches that, penalties can be imposed but that is certainly not what government wants to do,” the Taoiseach says. “Government wants to resolve this strike and we have offered a hearing at the Labour Court to try and resolve it.”

Dr Emily O’Connor, president of the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine (IAEM), said staff in emergency departments were attempting “to keep things turning over” and that the impact of the dispute would vary from site to site.

Dr O’Connor told RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke that nursing staff would be very stretched delivering care and services that would normally be delivered by health care assistants.

“If you are sick or badly injured please come into your local emergency department, we will still continue to see you, but people need to be patient as delays will be significant,” she said. “For many people the cancellation of a procedure today may be the last straw and they may well end up in emergency departments.”

Anne O’Connor, deputy director general of the HSE, said there had been a “significant impact” from today’s industrial action at 38 sites around the county.

Goodwill

She said there had been a lot of goodwill and cooperation from staff but that difficulties had arisen when it came to the moving and feeding of patients, but that there was no need for those attending hospitals to bring their own food.

“We are providing food and feeding patients. I am not aware of any case of hot food not being available,” she told RTÉ’s News at One.

Ms O’Connor warned that there would be a cumulative effect if a threatened three day strike goes ahead next week.

Senior hospital consultant Dr Paud O’Regan, who is based at South Tipperary General Hospital, said the strike was having a “major and almost catastrophic” affect on services there.

However, he said the workers involved in the strike were among the lowest paid in the health sector and are entitled to the increase in pay that has been recommended for them.

More than 13,000 people generally are seen at out-patient departments each day. On a typical Wednesday between 4,000 and 4,500 people undergo day procedures in hospitals while several hundred people have elective procedures.