THE NURSES' STRIKE

 

Sir, - As a hospital consultant here for 30 years, and before that a hospital doctor in the NHS for eight years, I would like to point out the facts relevant to our nurses and their threatened strike. Qualified nurses receive a surprisingly small income, either in terms of payment for work done or when compared to others in the public service. A dew car, ownership of their own home or a good holiday abroad are simply not possible for them economically. Because they have not made any demands in the past, their pay now is so far behind that there may be a perception that they demand too much.

Shame on those who would trivialise the present situation by the usual crass references to bedpans, ward romances and battleaxe sisters. Others use statistics (out of context) to suggest that our nurse-patient ratio is double that of other European countries, and give this as a reason for resisting a pay increase. Are they suggesting that we reduce the present, universally recognised high standard of nursing in our country?

When young persons decide to take nursing as a career, they do so to join a caring profession. This puts them in a special category. Entrance requirements, both academic and at personal interview, are amongst the most demanding in the country.

Nurses' training could be described as harsh, if it were not in fact necessary for such a responsible and high-risk occupation. During three years of basic training and a further year to get a third-level degree, the emphasis is on hard work and discipline. A first-year qualified staff nurse will be responsible for a ward of 30-40 patients from 8 pm until 8 am.

They are responsible for all drugs or other treatment administered, admitting emergency patients and preparing them for the operating theatre, coping with emergencies on the ward, monitoring patients returning from the operating theatre, liaising with the doctors and later, on getting patients up, washed and breakfasted before giving a detailed report on each patient to the staff coming on duty. They do all this with good humour and in a caring manner.

The vast majority of commentators, including those who have to face the headache of financing the public-service pay demands accept that nurses are underpaid (even with their new offer). The Ministers involved are apprehensive of the possible "knock-on" effect, but in truth this really is a special case and a better offer to the nurses at this time should be acceptable to all. - Yours, etc.,

St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin 4.