Nurses’ strike set to go ahead next week after talks fail
INMO general secretary calls on Taoiseach to intervene to avert 24-hour work stoppage
Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha, with INMO president Martina Harkin-Kelly at the talks at the Workplace Relations Commission, Ballsbridge, Dublin, on Wednesday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
A national strike by nearly 40,000 nurses seems set to go ahead next Wednesday after talks aimed at resolving the dispute ended unsuccessfully on Friday evening.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) called on Friday evening on the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to intervene directly to try to avert the planned work stoppage.
INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said after three days of talks at the Workplace Relations Commission the union had received no proposals for their members.
Members of the INMO are to stage the first of six planned 24-hour strikes on Wednesday.
Members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) are to put in place a ban on overtime on Thursday which it believes could have a significant impact on mental health services. It plans to escalate its campaign to work stoppages towards the middle of February.
The nursing unions are seeking pay parity with other graduate-entry groups in the health service such as physiotherapists who they maintain receive about €7,000 more per year.
The unions contend that such pay increases are essential to tackle recruitment and retention difficulties in the health service.
A spokeswoman for the Minister for Health Simon Harris said: “The Minister for Health still believes engagement is key to resolving this dispute. Management and the WRC remain available over the weekend for discussions.
“The Minister encourages both sides to use the time available to find a resolution to this dispute and avoid this industrial action.”
Speaking after the breakdown of the talks on Friday, PNA general secretary Peter Hughes said “there was nothing on the table and the gap between the parties has not narrowed” .
He said the Government now needed to intervene “with intent”.
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said: “The big question our members are going to ask us is where is the Taoiseach, where is the Minister for Finance? How come they are not trying intently to resolve the matters at stake here which are, after all, about patient care and how we provide care to patients?”
“Are nurses and midwives the only group who are going to have to take a stand to make sure our patients are safely cared for?”
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said there was no indication that there was any intent on the part of the Government to put forward any proposal to avert the dispute.
Asked whether any proposals had been put to the nursing unions over the last three days of talks, Ms Ní Sheaghdha said: “None.”
She said the INMO believed there was “ample opportunity” within the current public service pay deal to find a resolution to the dispute.
“We had many ideas about that. We have costed some of those ideas including the overspend on agency [staff] and the very serious overspend on the manner in which we recruit. We believe if the Government was serious we would have sat here on the first occasion this week and we would have been looking at the mathematics of the current waste of public money and the fact it is providing very dangerous conditions of care for patients.”
Earlier, the National Association of GPs (NAGP) said they intended to stage a major protest at Dáil Éireann on February 6th.
The NAGP said as a result “many GP practices maybe be closed to patients, or will have limited services available”.
The NAGP is holding the protest because it says the family doctor service is collapsing, or in some areas, has already collapsed.
The potential disruption to general practice services will come in the same week as hospital and community services are scheduled to be hit by the nurses’ strike.
The NAGP said: “We have not chosen this decision lightly but it is vital for us to make the Government and others fully aware that our health system is in crisis and has been so for years.”
“Years of successive cuts in Government funding for general practice have created an inefficient unstructured health system which is collapsing.”
“Also, promised extra investment in developing the GP service, like the fairytale promises under Sláintecare, have not even been begun to be delivered, so that the family doctor service can be healthy and sustainable for the future.”
The NAGP, which claims to represent about 2,000 GPs, said family doctors were tired of having to say sorry to patients:
“Sorry,we can’t give you a same day appointment.”
“Sorry,our nurse is only here part-time.”
“Sorry, I can only give you a few minutes per consultation.”
“Sorry, you have to wait four years for your hip replacement.”
“Sorry, you have to wait two years for an out-patient appointment.”
“Sorry, you have to wait five years for your cataract surgery.”
“Sorry, you are unable to access physiotherapy, psychology, podiatry and all the other ancillary services that make a health system work efficiently and safely.”
“Sorry, your relative died on a waiting list before their appointment came around.”
The NAGP said the Government had promised to reverse the 38 per cent funding cuts imposed on general practice under financial emergency legislation and offer – and properly fund a new – a modernised GP contract.
However, it said these pledges had not materialised.
“The number of doctors who can no longer take on any more patients is a growing crisis.
“The medical card system can no longer cope, having been starved of resources,” the NAGP said.
“Not enough new doctors are being appointed by the State, to serve the public and many are having to retire early, due to burnout.”