Hospitals facing chaotic winter as nurses near strike
Hospitals face mayhem this winter as nurses ballot for industrial action - forcing beds to close as the trolley crisis and overcrowding are at their worst.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) announced yesterday it will ballot members across the country in the coming weeks, insisting it is the only response left for a workforce "broken" by the daily pressures of under-staffed wards.
INMO general secretary Liam Doran said it would mean nurses who are on short-staffed units would refuse to be redeployed and only provide cover for a safe number of beds.
"That means closure of beds and also in the community the curtailment of services by public health nurses who will not provide cross-cover," he warned.
The action would come as hospitals are flooded with an influx of patients, many of them elderly, with winter-related illnesses and chronic illnesses.
The health service has lost thousands of nurses since 2008 and the numbers have fallen again by 350 since last December, he said.
A recruitment campaign for Irish nurses in the UK to return to Ireland attracted only 88 home and 48 of these have since left.
INMO president Martina Harkin-Kelly said nurses are facing "intolerable stress levels" which can "no longer be ignored".
The ballot - which it is predicted will be passed by majority - is expected to lead to inevitable industrial action as hospitals have struggled and failed to recruit and retain enough staff.
The nurses also want the reversal of pay cuts and pension levies, imposed during the recession, to be accelerated along with a cut in the longer working week imposed under the Lansdowne Rd and previous agreements.
One nurse who gave anonymous testimony of the financial hardship she faces said she has to go the St Vincent de Paul for food vouchers to feed her family and faces eviction due to rent arrears as her husband cannot work.
Another nurse said she is 43 years old but her parents must come to her rescue to pay for her children's school and the cost of heating her home.
Commenting on the nurses' threat, Dr Peadar Gilligan, an emergency consultant in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, said yesterday it is "anti-patient".
He said if it leads to bed closures it will cause greater patient risk.
"I would be concerned they would even put that proposal to their members. The alternative to putting one additional patient from the emergency department in a ward is for more patients to be boarded in the emergency department.
"This will lead to huge overcrowding and compromise the delivery of care.
"If the union takes the action and it applies to the emergency department setting, what happens to the patients?" he asked.
Dr Gilligan, spokesman for consultants in the Irish Medical Organisation, was speaking as the union launched its pre-Budget submission.