Nurses relying on food banks, INMO conference hears

Some health care workers are ‘struggling to live, never mind work,’ delegates told

Nurses are not immune to food poverty, with some currently seeking assistance from food banks, the annual conference of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has heard.

Mick Schnackenberg, a general nurse in the Midlands Regional Hospital , Tullamore who proposed an emergency motion on the cost of living, said that while there had been a lot of discussion at the three day conference in Sligo about pressure in the workplace, members were not just feeling pressure at work.

Mr Schnackenberg said he personally knew of six nurses who were depending on food banks. "This is shocking in 2022. I am very angry about it ," he told attendees, including Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

A Galway-based nurse told delegates that staff have no disposable income for emergencies or unexpected expenses.

Sean Shaughnessy, who is a member of the INMO executive council, said some nurses and midwives were paid bimonthly and were struggling five days out from pay day. "And that is the reality."

He said he knew of one nurse, a widow with two children who had recently been “dumped” by her landlord and was weeks away from “having no house or no bed for herself and her two kids”. This woman was currently navigating the system to try and get housing. She cannot afford the “extraordinary rents” nor was she able to get herself on a housing list, he said.

“So Minister, take that message back and understand that our health care workers are struggling to live, never mind work,” he added.

Spiralling

Mr Schnackenberg said the cost of just getting to work - especially for those working in the community - was spiralling.

Nurses and midwives were suffering the effects of inflation and facing real economic difficulties providing for themselves and their families in the current economic climate, he said. “House prices are out of control; it is not good enough that it costs close to €1,200 per month to rent a home in Tullamore, and that’s if you are lucky enough to be able to find a place to rent.”

He said had just checked and currently there were only five properties available in Tullamore to rent at the moment. “Our members, as frontline workers, spend most of their income in providing day-to-day essentials for themselves and their families must not be left to the ravages of inflation” he added.

Nurses and midwives were being hammered by steep rises in fuel costs, while electricity costs had gone through the roof, the INMO official said.

“I have colleagues who are actually forced to take days off work, to phone in sick, as they do not have money to drive to work and pay car parking fees in some hospitals. It is ludicrous.”

Asked to comment on revelations that nurses are being forced to rely on food banks, the Minister said: “We need to act. Our healthcare staff need to be able to live, they need to be able to do their job. We are facing an unprecedented pressure on inflation because of the war In Ukraine.”

The Minister said unions had wanted the pay talks due to start at the end of this year to be brought forward , and they had now been invited in next week. “So this is the Government trying to listen very carefully and respond to the very real pressures .”

Rent freeze

Delegates unanimously backed an emergency motion calling for engagement with the ICTU Public Service Committee without delay to focus on “the real erosion of salary and purchasing power facing Irish nurses and midwives versus the 1 per cent pay adjustment that is due next October”.

They demanded a nationwide rent freeze, in order to make housing more affordable for nurses and midwives and allow them to live near their places of work. And they called for a meaningful and well-resourced Bring Them Home campaign to tackle recruitment and retention issues.

Mr Donnelly has said he understands that the HSE is now processing the €1,000 Pandemic Recognition Payment for frontline healthcare workers through its payroll system. Nurses and midwives working in the acute hospital sector are expecting the payment by the end of this month.

But INMO president Karen McGowan told the Minister that it had turned into such a protracted process it had taken the good out of the announcement . She also urged Mr Donnelly to consider extending the scheme.

“Minister, you cannot forget those who worked in GP practices or our private hospitals. Government must come up with some mechanism for those workers to be paid,” she said.

Describing the payments as “a good news story” Mr Donnelly said it paled compared to the huge amount of work the frontline workers had done in very difficult circumstances through the pandemic.