Tuesday, 5 February 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
The health service is still in crisis. The nurses' strike today is discommoding a far greater number of services than the last one. Some 50,000 patients have had their elective procedures cancelled. It is a cause for alarm that emergency departments will come and are coming under extreme pressure today. We know of the comments from the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine. The 50,000 patients, on top of those who were affected last week, amount to a lot of people across hospitals and community services across the country. Respite care and rehabilitation services will also be severely affected as a result of today's action. Disability services have also been brought within the scope of the strike. The Psychiatric Nurses Association, PNA, is escalating its overtime ban tomorrow and Thursday. The ban will now operate for 24 hours and thereby include overnight rosters. Therefore, mental health services will also be severely impacted on.
The Government has known about this for a long time, but there has been an absence of substantive and meaningful engagement on its Government. I put it to the Taoiseach that last night's initiative, the proposals that emanated from the Ministers, Deputies Donohoe and Harris, at the eleventh hour, has only served to compound the problem, make it worse and escalate it. The proposals concern staff shortages, undergraduate education, future nursing needs and so on, but they were sent via a press release without any engagement with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, or the PNA.
The INMO's general secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, described it as "the most cynical move I have seen in a long time". The unions have rejected it as Government spin and said it was massively disrespectful to the nurses and to patients. The Taoiseach cannot solve industrial relations disputes with such cynical PR manoeuvres. The approach that holds optics to be more important than substance will not cut it when it comes to an industrial dispute of this gravity and scale. Meaningful steps are required to be taken. Substance must replace spin in the resolution of this dispute. Being seen to do something by rushing out a press release is not the approach. Why not engage in mediation to create a meaningful process to set in train a process that would come within the aegis of the industrial relations machinery? Why not deploy somebody of the calibre of Kieran Mulvey, for example, to engage with both sides to develop such a process that would bring the Government and the unions together under aegis of the industrial relations machinery to resolve this issue? The resolution of this dispute will require creative approaches and solutions. It has happened in the past in other similar disputes. The Taoiseach has to engage substantively with the issue. I ask him to take an initiative similar to that which I have just suggested.