Nurses' deal 'will provide safer A&E care'
Fears other health staff will now lodge knock-on claims
The nurses' deal will not resolve overcrowding in our hospital emergency departments but should help provide better and safer patient care, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said yesterday.
Mr Varadkar was speaking after nurses called off yesterday's work stoppages in seven hospitals in response to proposals agreed at late-night talks on Monday between the HSE and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.
Under the proposals, which will now go to ballot, a senior nurse, with staff, will be appointed to specifically look after patients on trolleys who are waiting for a bed. These are the sickest patients and need more monitoring which can be difficult if nurses are overstretched.
The deal will involve extra promotions for senior nurses and education grants for new entrants, which their union says could lead to more staff being recruited and retained.
Mr Varadkar insisted emergency department overcrowding is already easing due to measures such as opening more beds on wards. "Even though we have managed to take on more than 750 extra nurses and midwives in the last 12 months, recruitment in some areas can be a struggle, especially in high pressure environments like emergency departments," he said. However, earlier INMO leader Liam Doran predicted that waiting lists for public patients who need to be admitted for surgery will rise as a result of the deal.
This is because the nurses received pledges that once overcrowding and trolley waits reach a certain point, an escalation policy, which will include cancelling admissions of non-urgent patients, will kick in. However, the HSE denied this would happen.
The Department of Health insisted that "there could be a small impact on elective procedures but we have more beds and we also have the option of using the private sector."
Emergency department nurses are to get two extra days leave over two years by way of time off in lieu for inability to take uninterrupted meal breaks.
As an incentive, all new entrant nurses from Ireland, not just those getting jobs in emergency departments, will receive €1,500 in an educational bursary payable after 12 months employment. Nurses joining hospitals here from the UK will get an upfront grant of €1,500.
The emergency departments which can be choked with trolleys are also to be designated distinct workplaces under health and safety legislation.
The HSE said yesterday it has not yet priced the deal but they would be covered within its "pay envelope".
A spokeswoman said: "Nothing in this agreement breaches the provisions of the Lansdowne Road Agreement."
It also allows for an independently chaired process to look at the outstanding issues facing undergraduate and newly graduated nurses in relation to pay and incremental credit.
This group will come up with a report by December 22.
However, there are already fears of knock-on claims, not just from nurses working in other parts of the hospital but also other health grades.
Paul Bell of Siptu, representing healthcare assistants and staff, said he would be examining the fine print of the deal to examine if these workers should also benefit from extra leave.
Mr Bell said the devil is in the detail and Siptu nurses had taken the approach that there was a need to increase staffing levels but there was no indication yet as to whether there would be an increase in the number of nurses or other staff in the emergency department.
He suggested the Lansdowne Road Agreement sets out conditions and pay.
It would be a challenge for the HSE to ring-fence this agreement for emergency nurses.
There were 270 people on trolleys in emergency departments yesterday and another 79 in wards.
This is down on this date last year.
The highest numbers were in St Vincent's Hospital and Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.