Plan to combat nursing shortage supported


The Rotunda Hospital in Dublin has had to extend cutbacks in elective surgery because of a shortage of nurses, its Master, Dr Peter McKenna, says. Elective gynaecological surgery was cancelled for August and will be curtailed in September.

Dr McKenna says he sees no immediate prospect of an improvement in the situation. But he supports a suggestion by a SIPTU official that non-nursing staff in hospitals could be trained to do some back-up work in theatres.

He says there are "certainly some good elements" in the suggestion by the Dublin health services branch secretary, Mr Paul Bell. SIPTU has 6,000 non-nursing members in the Dublin hospitals alone.

Dr McKenna says that "not all theatre duty is highly technical". Standing at the table handing instruments to the surgeon is not a very technical procedure, he says. Training other staff to do non-technical work would free up nurses for the more professionally demanding work for which their skills were required.

The alternative is to increase the number of nurses, he says, and he does not see any immediate possibility of this.

Dr McKenna says the Rotunda Hospital has sufficient medical staff but he is not sure that will continue to be the case from January when the current six-month contracts are due to change. The hospital is short of about 30 nurses.

Our survey continues to show variations in the experience of hospitals. By and large, public voluntary hospitals (often run by religious orders or trusts) have fewer staffing problems than health board hospitals. Nevertheless, shortages affect hospitals throughout the State.

East: The Rotunda maternity hospital cancelled elective gynaecological surgery for August and will continue to restrict the service in September due to a shortage of theatre nurses. Of the two other major maternity hospitals in the city, the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, has also had to cancel elective surgery but services at the Coombe Women's Hospital are running normally. St Vincent's Psychiatric Hospital, Fairview, says it is experiencing staff shortages but no cutbacks in services.

North East: Cavan General Hospital has been unable to fill two non-consultant hospital doctor posts in anaesthesia. As a result, epidurals at the weekend are provided in emergency cases but other requests are "examined on their clinical merits". Also as a result of this, the intensive care unit, which deals with all emergencies, has had to limit planned procedures. The North Eastern Health Board says it has put proposals to the relevant staff to find a solution. In addition to this, one ward at a time is being closed for a major refurbishment programme.

South: The South Infirmary- Victoria Hospital, Cork, says it has a shortage of theatre nurses but has no recruitment problems other than that.

Mid West: St John's Hospital, Limerick, says it has no difficulties in getting doctors or nurses.

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