Thursday, 7 February 2019
Nurses and Midwives Industrial Action: Statements
Patients in Ireland now wait longer to see doctors and to get treatment than patients in any other European country. Waiting times for CervicalCheck have jumped from two weeks to six months. Mental health services are in crisis and chronically underfunded. We have about half the number of consultants we need. The costs of the national children’s hospital have exploded threatening other healthcare projects for years to come.
In this context, our healthcare professionals are at their wits’ end. Hundreds of GPs took to the streets outside Leinster House yesterday to protest the asset stripping of general practice. Consultant posts lie vacant around the country. Ambulance drivers are taking strike action. Psychiatric nurses are taking strike action. The focus of this morning’s session, namely, the nurses and midwives, have just commenced their third day of national strike action, only the second such action in 100 years of INMO history. They have been calling for meaningful engagement for five years. They want to discuss conditions, staffing levels, patient safety, cost saving opportunities, career progression and – one of the core issues of this strike – the inequitable situation where a newly-minted, honours degree educated nurse walks in the front door of a hospital on their first day of work with an allied health professional and the nurse earns €6,000 to €7,000 less.
The Government's response to date is that it will meet the INMO so long as the issue at the centre of this strike is not discussed but, worse, the Government did not even have the courtesy to tell the INMO of its offer directly, rather it issued that offer via press release. If anything, that action, that lack of respect, has further galvanised the tens of thousands of men and women on picket lines this morning. The Government maintains there is no blank cheque. They are not looking for a blank cheque; they are looking for real, respectful, open engagement. The Government maintains it cannot engage on the issue of pay because of the public sector pay agreement but that agreement allows for these issues to be dealt where recruitment and retention has been identified as a problem. The number of mental health nurses is falling. The number of community nurses is falling. Many hospitals across Ireland are struggling to hire staff nurses and have particular issues in specialties such as intensive care and emergency medicine. That provides the space for an urgent review for nurses and midwives within the parameters of the public sector pay agreement. The general secretary of ICTU has stated she believes the INMO issues can be addressed within the parameters of the public sector pay agreement.
We all know that these issues will be resolved sooner or later. The question is: how much pain is the Government willing to inflict on patients, on their families and on healthcare professionals? Not a single nurse or midwife wants to be strike today. They are on the picket lines because they have not been listened to because they are not being respected.
The Government has a few critical days to get on top of this situation and avert strike action next week. Our hope is that it will start taking its responsibility seriously.