Seanad debates

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Adjournment Matters

Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland

6:10 pm

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State who has certainly been serving above and beyond the call of duty in Seanad Éireann today.

The working conditions of nurses are a source of particular concern to me. I know that in a health services such as ours we are absolutely blessed by the presence of an extraordinary cohort of nurses. That they are so much in demand internationally is not a coincidence. We have extremely high standards in terms of education, professionalism and culture.

From the perspective of nurses, it looks as if they are under a sustained assault by the Government. I am sorry to have to say this, but these points have been made to me. Nurses have seen their salaries decrease by 15% or more; they have experienced the same increases in tax that others have, with the impact of the universal service charge, water and property charges. They have found that they have to work harder. One of the unappreciated side effects of the downturn in the economy has been that a number of specific policies which have been put in place have affected the working conditions of nurses who are still in a job. As there has been an embargo on nursing numbers, units that may have had a number of staff above what was officially sanctioned suddenly experienced the non replacement of staff who had left their jobs. In addition, there has been a rowing back in the use of agency nurses to fill the gaps, jobs that in truth were filled to try to circumvent issues related to the embargo. As a result, nurses are doing more of other nurses' work. The cutbacks in other professional categories in hospitals have meant that nurses are not getting the support of other allied professions and are doing other work that they should not have to do.

I have previously voiced grave concerns about the graduate nursing scheme. It is very difficult from where I sit to see this as anything other than an opportunity to get increasing numbers of nurses working at a lower pay grade. It must be acknowledged also that it is not Civil Service or HSE officials who have to face people when they are confronted with deficiencies in health services as delivered to them. It is usually nurses who have to bear the brunt. In the face of all of this why are they being asked to accept another increase in their registration fee to the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland? This most recent increase means that in a two year period the fee has increased by 80% at a time when the general rate of inflation is approximately 1%. What extra service or what extra duties are being included in the job description of the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland?

The representations I have received from nurses and their representatives suggest the two functions of the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland are, first, to take their money and, second, to discipline them. Nurses are not seeing anything such as career advancement, the protection of the profession or the setting of appropriate standards. They are very troubled by this. They believe the board has not been a powerful advocate for their working conditions. For all of these reasons, they are wondering why they are being asked, uniquely among the health professions, to accept such an extraordinary increase in their registration fee compared to other allied professionals or those involved in medicine. I remind the Minister of State, as a long-standing supporter of trade unionism, that nurses are still a very highly represented group.

I am glad of this. If it had not been for the strength of the representative organisations conditions of employment would have been worse. It is important to realise that nursing organisations are very concerned about the latest increase and consider it a bridge too far. There has been a march towards increased austerity, deteriorating working conditions, less worker satisfaction and increased contribution demands. Nurses are now being asked not to pay the full newly-increased retention fees that are being demanded. They are suggesting the standing orders be amended to pay the old fee. If this happens a huge number of nurses would not be able to turn up for work the next day because they would not be legally registered and would not be indemnified for professional activities.

I ask the Minister of State to use her good offices to look at this matter critically and find out why this body needs such a large increase in such a short period at a time of low general inflation. What is being done with the money? I ask that the actions of others be followed and that there be a freeze on allied health registration fees for at least three years and until there is a change in the working conditions of some of the most hard-working, under-appreciated and unrewarded members of our health service.


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