Thursday, 7 February 2019
Nurses and Midwives Industrial Action: Statements
Joan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independent)
I welcome all the nurses in the Gallery. I want to counteract the nonsense the Government is putting out that staffing levels are okay and that there is no issue with recruitment and retention. The INMO has shown that there are 103 fewer staff nurses employed today than were employed in December 2007 and that there are 1,650 fewer nurses and midwives today than there were in 2007. The INMO has informed us that hospitals are unable to recruit midwifery staff to match the recommended level of staff midwives to birth ratio.
The PNA has said that, according to figures it has got, there is a 40% vacancy rate in psychiatric nursing. At the same time, the INMO has figures to the effect that the HSE is paying out €1.4 million a week in agency nursing costs. In terms of psychiatric nursing, in 2013, €14.3 million was spent on agency nursing. That had increased to €53 million in 2017. That is the scandal we are facing as a public in respect of the way our health service is being run.
The irony is unbelievable regarding the use of agency staff. The HSE is paying agency nurses 20% more than the nurses they work beside in our hospitals. So much for equal pay for work of equal value in that regard.
Those figures came from a response to a parliamentary question tabled last year. The HSE, in response, stated that this expenditure should be considered in the overall context, including increasing demand for services - absolutely - the impact of earlier constraints on recruitment in the public service - absolutely - and ongoing challenges in regard to recruitment and retention of clinical staff.
The HSE is admitting there is a problem with recruitment and retention but why is the Minister not admitting it is a major problem and has to be dealt with? Nurses are leaving their jobs and the country to go to Australia or Canada, private hospitals and agencies. That is the reality.
The Government says the nurses have to be responsible and that it cannot afford to pay €300 million out of a €17 billion health budget or on the back of all the other issues on which money can be wasted. It should think about this. It can afford to pay the €450 million or €700 million, with contractors breaking tenders, in respect of the children's hospital. As reported in the news the other day, it can afford to allow the Department of Justice and Equality pay €1,000 per week on taxis. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade can afford to pay €1,000 per day on taxis. Is that a responsible Government?
What is really offensive is that Deputies on the Government side of the House who are telling nurses and midwives to be responsible pocketed €7,800 in the past two years as a result of the reversal of the financial emergency measures in the public interest pay cuts from January 2017. I did not take it because of what is happening here today and to support teachers and others in respect of equality of pay. I gifted back the money. These are the same people who are telling nurses to get off the picket line and not turn their backs on their patients in the hospitals.
I heard reports on the radio this morning that patients are at risk. Patients are at risk every single day of the year. These nurses are out on the picket line because they will not stand over continuing that risk to patient safety.
There is a way for the Minister to resolve this dispute. There is a section in the public sector pay agreement which provides for a review of recruitment and retention. Why will the Minister not look at public sector pay, offer a substantial down payment to start the talks and then go into negotiations on reviewing it?
Irish nurses across the world are in solidarity with this action. They are asking the Government to give them a reason to come home. I ask the Minister to give them a reason to come home and come out on Saturday at 12.30 p.m. to support nurses, midwives, psychiatric nurses and GPs who are saying that the system is in crisis, that it is crippling, and that it has to be dealt with. Will the Minister respond to that request and, following these statements, talk to Phil Ní Sheaghdha, Peter Hughes and those who can make the difference? If he does not do that, patient safety will be on his head.