Nurses’ strike will pose ‘real challenges’, HSE warns
Health executive expresses concerns over the scale of the planned INMO work stoppage
Members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation protesting outside Leinster House. File photograph: Eric Luke
The levels of nursing which will be provided across the health service during a major strike next Wednesday will pose real challenges, the HSE has said.
The HSE said it had concerns about the scale of the planned 24-hour work stoppage by nearly 40,000 nurses across hospitals and in the community, as well as about the number of services that would be affected.
The planned strike by members of the INMO on Wednesday will be the first in a series of six scheduled work stoppages in the weeks ahead as part of a dispute over pay and staffing issues.
The HSE said it was continuing to engage with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) to secure further agreement “to allow us to operate safely” amid strike action.
“To put it into context, for a single day of the dispute, up to 13,000 patients will have their outpatient appointment cancelled and a further 2,000 planned procedures will not go ahead. In terms of community services, thousands of appointments will be cancelled.
“While these patients and clients will be rescheduled, it will affect our ability to treat further patients in a timely way. Also, if the subsequent days proceed, it will have a cumulative impact on wait times and volumes.”
Meanwhile, psychiatric nurses on Thursday are scheduled to put in place an overtime ban in the mental health service.
Members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) plan to escalate their campaign of industrial action to full strikes towards the middle of February.
The Irish Times reported on Saturday that HSE senior management had warned in a confidential internal memo that the organisation’s ability to deliver safe, sustainable services would be “compromised” if the planned nurses’ strike went ahead on Wednesday.
Talks aimed at averting the stoppage broke down on Friday evening.
The INMO called on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to intervene directly to try find a resolution.
Dozens of Irish nurses working in Britain held a rally on Saturday in central London to support the INMO and PNA campaign.
In a statement on Saturday, the HSE said efforts would continue to avert strike action and health service management would “work with INMO to ensure appropriate arrangements are in place to support safe care provision.
“The threatened industrial action poses real challenges to service delivery given the scale of the action proposed across our hospitals and community services. Our objective is to deliver safe services during the day of the strike. To this end, our hospitals and community services have put contingency plans in place for the day and we have secured exemptions on some critical service areas.
“The levels of nursing which will be provided across the health service on the day of action will pose real challenges, particularly in the winter period when our hospitals and services are operating at close to 100 per cent occupancy.”
The HSE outlined the impact the strike would have in a document released late on Friday night.
The HSE said that among services that would have restricted levels of operations on Wednesday were:
– emergency departments;
– emergency theatres;
– in-patient and other wards, and
– planned obstetric procedures (based on maternal and foetal well-being).
The HSE said that services in hospitals that would be operational on Wednesday were:
– urgent cancer surgery;
– maternity services (delivery suites/home births/special baby care units/neonatal care);
– colposcopy services;
– oncology services (chemotherapy and radiotherapy), and
– dialysis services.
The HSE said in the event of the work stoppages taking place planned in-patient and day-case surgery in hospitals will be cancelled. It said all out-patient appointments will also not go ahead, including adult, maternity and paediatric appointments.
The HSE said local injury units will not be operational as a result of the strike.
In relation to community services, the HSE said that all public day centres for older people or people with disabilities where nurses are employed will be closed. Routine community nursing services and health centre clinics where nurses participated will be cancelled. Day hospital services, including outpatient appointments, in community nursing units/hospitals will also be cancelled, it said.
The HSE said that while planned elective and day-case surgeries will be cancelled, a specific number of emergency/urgent operations may proceed.
“In this regard, the individual hospitals will make direct contact with patients to confirm,” it said.
The HSE said that “in the event that a pregnant woman requires urgent assessment due to cancellation of an outpatient appointment, these women can present to the emergency admission room”.
The HSE said that, in the community, planned essential services delivered in patients’ homes would continue to be provided, long-term care of older people and people with intellectual disabilities would continue and palliative care services would be operational.
In the confidential internal memo, which was drawn up on Friday, the HSE said the INMO had insisted that only “life-preserving services” would be provided during the strike.
“The INMO is clear that any nurses not in the INMO who work will not receive co-operation from INMO. However, the management position is that all staff not in dispute should present for work as normal.
“Management’s position is that any non-INMO staff rostered during the dispute are expected to present for duty,” the HSE memo stated.
The HSE said it had agreed that INMO nurses and midwives who carry out duties agreed by the union during the stoppage will be paid.
INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said on Friday that after three days of talks at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) the union had received no proposals for their members.
Currently there was no indication that there was any intent on the part of the Government to put forward any proposal to avert the dispute, she added.
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.”