NURSES in Clare and throughout the Mid-West have overwhelmingly supported a national ballot for industrial action.
The result of the ballot coincides with the revelation there are up to 60 nursing vacancies in University Hospital Limerick (UHL), which continues to struggle with overcrowding as INMO figures recorded 56 patients on trolleys on Tuesday, December 18.
According to INMO industrial relations officer, Mary Fogarty, this doesn’t include ward nursing posts that were not funded since reconfiguration removed 24-hour casualty cover from Ennis and Nenagh Hospitals in April 2009.
Ms Fogarty said eight beds were closed in St Camillus Hospital, Limerick and about ten funded beds in St Joseph’s Geriatric Hospital, Ennis.
The union official pointed out if there was an examination about what St Joseph’s really required, this figure would be much higher.
Asked if industrial action in the new year would made chronic overcrowding even worse, she stressed nurses were left with no other option.
She said the 95% vote for industrial action illustrated how nurses felt they are being treated.
“Nurses are the lowest paid healthcare professional and work the longest hours. They are not prepared to take this any longer.
“There are significant staff recruitment issues. Beds are not open because of staffing difficulties. It is time for the government and the Department of Public Expenditure to address these issues,” she said.
The INMO is engaging with the UL Hospitals’ Group to try and recruit the 30 additional nurses that are earmarked in its new Winter Plan to improve patient flow.
The INMO’s Executive Council, made up of elected nurses and midwives from across Ireland, will meet on January 7th and 8th to discuss the result and decide the next steps.
The executive will determine dates for a 24-hour national strike, which would see INMO members withdraw their labour, providing only emergency and lifesaving care.
This would be only the second time in the INMO’s hundred-year history that its members have taken national strike action. Nurses and midwives last engaged in strike action two decades ago in 1999.
Meanwhile, Dr Michael Harty believes the new Winter Plan for UHL may reduce admission but will not deal with overcrowding because the hospital is too small for the catchment area of 400,000 people and its ageing population.
He welcomed the proposals which include a 19-bay medical assessment unit and a 17-bed surgical short- stay unit but added that they shouldn’t be needed in the first place.
“In the absence of those beds there is no solution to a winter surge other than to increase staff numbers, increase nursing numbers, increase the number of senior decision makers, improve access to diagnostics so that people can be treated more quickly and efficiently. To be fair, the UL Hospital Group has probably the best record in the country for putting people through the system and they should get credit for that,” he said.
The UL Hospitals’ Group stated it is engaging positively with the INMO around proposed national strike activity.
The group employs 1,643 nurses, a further 12 nurses will commence work in early January 2019. At that point the group said it will have 12 vacant funded positions, which it is actively endeavouring to fill.
At December 1st 2018, the group employed 102 more nurses more than at the same time in 2017.
Recruitment of nurses and midwives is a constant process and continues to be a priority for the group, which continues to recruit successfully, both nationally and internationally to facilitate the opening of new services including the ED, expanded dialysis service, additional ICU beds whilst also filling general nursing vacancies.
“Nurses are a highly mobile workforce whose skills are greatly in demand at home and abroad. The group’s recruitment department actively works to fill vacancies as and when they occur on an ongoing basis due to retirements, career breaks, promotion or resignation. The nursing turnover in the group is in line with other hospital groups in the country and year on year the recruitment and retention of nursing staff is improving,” said a UL Hospitals’ spokeswoman.