Physiotherapists and social workers at the west’s largest regional hospital have voted in favour of industrial action in protest over the use of dedicated clinic space to ease accident and emergency overcrowding.
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has promised 30 extra emergency department beds at University Hospital Galway(UHG), but Impact says that this at the expense of physiotherapy and social work staff and their clients.
Hospital management is “creating another crisis” in trying to provide a short-term solution to a shortage of emergency department space, as it will directly affect the number of patients being discharged home, said the union.
A ballot conducted by Impact trade union of 37 staff late last week (Friday 17th) recorded a 94 per cent vote in favour of the action.
The physiotherapists have been asked to surrender their purpose-built clinic and move into a work space one-third of the size of their current area which had been used by social workers. The social work department has been asked to move into a temporary prefab.
Physiotherapy outpatient services have also been relocated to Merlin Park hospital across the city, but this creates “major operational issues”, union members say.
They say that many of the physiotherapy staff working in more specialised services, such as oncology/radiotherapy, plastic surgery, men’s health and respiratory care, move between inpatient and outpatient care many times every day.
Crossing between the two sites will reduce the number of patients they can see daily, they say.
The ballot asked members to vote on whether they supported the union’s opposition to a management proposal to move the physiotherapy and social work departments to “inferior facilities”.
The motion said that this move would in turn have a “detrimental effect on the standard of care”, and noted that management had not adhered to the consultation provisions outlined in the public service agreement.
“In the event of management taking disciplinary action . . . Impact reserves the right to move to all-out industrial action,” the ballot paper noted.
The Saolta hospital group in Galway said that a temporary 30-bed ward is "an urgent requirement, given the sustained high level of patients spending long periods of time on trolleys awaiting admission to the hospital, which is unacceptable".
It confirmed that this would involve relocating the physiotherapy and social work departments and said it regretted the “temporary disruption” that “relocation may cause any service”.
A 75-bed block is under construction at the hospital, it said.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation held a protest last autumn over lack of space in the UHG emergency department.