Tens of thousands of people attended a rally in Dublin city centre in support of the nurses’ campaign for improved pay and for the health service to tackle recruitment and retention issues.
Over 40,000 members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) are set to go on strike for three days in the coming week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Nurses and their families and supporters gathered at Parnell Square from noon and began marching down O’Connell Street led by members of the Dublin Fire Brigade Pipe Band at about 12.30, chanting and carrying trade union banners.
Noreen Galvin, a clinical nurse manager based in Tullamore Hospital, said she had come to Dublin to support the protest because it was about the future of the nursing profession.
“It’s about recruitment, it’s about retention. In my unit the vast majority of nurses are in their 40s and 50s. The 20 and the 30-year-olds they are not here, they’re not in Ireland. One of my colleagues, her daughter qualified last year. Twenty of them are in London and around the world. So it is about safe staffing, it is about safe patient care. Every day procedures are cancelled because there aren’t enough nurses.”
Holding a placard declaring himself a lung transplant patient supporting the nurses, Brendan Larkin from Ballybrack in Dublin said he had received “excellent” care from them.
He said he had also been supporting the nurses on the various picket lines outside hospitals and would continue to do so next week.
“To see the nurses over in Australia with the placards saying they want to come home…to be honest with you I’m feeling very emotional, especially when you see the amount of people here.”
Anne Hickey, a retired public health nurse, said “understaffing was a huge issue” and that nurses were just leaving the profession.
Freddie Trevaskis-Hoskin, said he was a lifelong patient with a rare syndrome that required major surgery every couple of years and minor surgery “often”.
“I was in for minor surgery yesterday and because of this I have a lot of experience with how overrun the nurses in our country are and what a difficult job it is even at the best of times. If you are trying to care for people in those extreme situations, even if you are well paid and get normal working hours, it’s an extraordinarily stressful life to live,” he said.
The protest moved down Eden Quay and across the Liffey, up Lombard Street and Westland Row to Merrion Street where a stage was erected for speakers in front of Government Buildings.
Addressing the huge crowd, INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said that in 2019 there were no further arguments left to deny nurses and midwives equal pay.
“Equal pay for nurses with other graduates is something we have strived for, is something that we seek and it’s something that we intend to get, because without it, nursing and midwifery will still be considered a little bit of a vocation and a little bit of ‘girls going to work’ and girls just not having the right to stand up for themselves.”
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said nurses were not denying there were problems with the economic fabric of the State or that the economic future of the country was important.
But she said they did not believe that our social fabric was secondary and that our public health service was something that should be sacrificed in a recession.
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said she was returning to the Labour Court on Saturday afternoon, where the INMO has been in talks with health managers.
INMO president Martina Harkin-Kelly said that when she started nursing in 1983, there were cutbacks and the “exoduses” of nurses in the 80s and 90s.
Nurses and midwives had not just taken a hit through “poor pay”. They had also been “stripped” any allowances and any extra pay that they had.
A number of nurses told the crowd of how they were struggling in their daily jobs because of understaffng and they said they had been overwhelmed by public support during their strike in recent weeks.
The Psychiatric Nurses Association on Friday escalated its campaign of industrial action over pay and staffing issues and announced three further 24-hour work stoppages for the week after next.
Peter Hughes, general secretary of the union, told the crowds at the protest on Saturday that by 2021, 34 per cent of psychiatric nurses in the State would be eligible for retirement. He also said that asome 3,000 children were on waiting lists for first-time mental health assessments and that this was “a national disgrace”.
He said the recruitment and retention crisis in the mental health services was “impacting daily on the quality of care and the access to services for patients and service users”.
The PNA said it had not been invited to attend talks at the Labour Court on Friday between the INMO and public service management aimed at finding a resolution to the current dispute.
Talks between public service management and the INMO will resume at 3.30pm on Saturday and a meeting with the PNA will commence at 5.30pm.
On Friday the HSE formally wrote to the Government expressing concern over patient safety issues in the event of the planned three days of strikes by nurses going ahead in the coming week.