Thursday, 7 February 2019
Nurses and Midwives Industrial Action: Statements
It has been a difficult week for the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris. I do not say that in jest. I hope he is going to take very seriously the concerns raised yesterday by the paramedics and doctors because, along with the nurses, they comprise the bedrock of our health service. I am glad the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, is sitting beside the Minister for Health because they need to sit down and have a chat about the children's hospital also, considering that it took them and their officials so long to sit down and have a chat on day one, which is amazing.
I am glad we got to debate this issue. It is very strange there are those who did not want to debate it. When we talk about this issue, it is important that we deal with some facts, one being that, in 2018, due to under-staffing and under-capacity, nearly 110,000 were forced to wait on trolleys and 7,000 procedures were cancelled. Only one in every four nursing vacancies was filled. There are almost 1,700 fewer nurses than there were a decade ago.
An issue that really bugs me is the amount of money spent on agency nurses. There will always be a role for agency nurses because gaps arise but they have now become the norm. I am sure the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will accept this is not an efficient way of spending money. More money is spent because of the policy that has now become the norm. It is continuous. The scale shows why this issue has to be dealt with. The costs of hiring agency staff and recruiting staff are so high that they are even adding to the problem. When I hear it is going to cost X million euro to sort this out, I believe from the prudence perspective that the Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform should consider this issue before circulating figures. They should examine the recruitment costs, the issues related to agency staff, the issues related to comparable pay, the efficiencies that would be brought about if there were enough nurses in the first place and how stays in hospitals would be shortened because of a more efficient service. The savings would be used to meet the requirements for which the nurses are rightly arguing.
My party and I will be fully supporting the nurses and have done so. We will be fully supporting them on Saturday on their day of protest. They do not take this action lightly. Members of my family are nurses. There are very few Members in the Dáil who do not have somebody in their extended family involved in the profession. Nursing is a vocation. We saw last night that nurses were staying on late to finish off their work. They always work longer hours and always stay longer to hand over because it is a vocation.
The nurses will continue to have public support because of the manner in which they conduct themselves, the way in which they act in their profession and the exemplary work they do. Nursing is probably the profession that the public will stand behind most. If the Minister believes he is going to wear down the nursing unions and public, he is completely and utterly wrong. It is about time the Minister sat down with the nurses and engaged with them in a truthful manner. Other Members have made reference to the manner in which he has communicated with the unions to date. It is insulting. Even the Taoiseach has had to apologise to this House for the manner in which the nurses have been communicated with, by press release. It is not the way to do business and it must not continue.
Instead of an elongated strike, which we all know has consequences across the health service, and instead of sitting down with the nurses in the near future, there should be an effort to compromise. Ultimately, strikes come to an end and there will be compromise. Since there has to be compromise of some form, why not sit down in a real fashion, get rid of all the preconditions and do everyone, including all of us, those in the Visitors Gallery, the watching public and all the nurses listening a favour and engage in proper negotiations? Why not? What is to be lost? From a Government perspective, it is going to have to happen anyway. It might as well happen now. We are facing three days of strikes next week. There is no reason the negotiations cannot happen now. I just do not understand it.
Let us consider some of the reasons the nurses feel the need to go on strike. A figure that really hits me is that when nurses are leaving the profession, 60% do not do so because they are retiring; they are actually resigning. They are leaving the profession to work in a private capacity or to do something else. Does this not explain absolutely why there is such a genuine issue?
If one talks to nurses - this is something I see all the time in my daily work - pay is the real issue and a central component of the dispute. In order to resolve it and deal with the issues of recruitment and retention, patient safety must ultimately be recognised as a real issue.
I represent County Tipperary. We have two of the most overcrowded hospitals in the country either side of where I live: South Tipperary General Hospital, as the Minister very well knows-----