Sunday 23 October 2016

Patients at risk as nurses threaten hospital strikes

'Mountain to climb' to halt action, warns INMO chief

Eilish O'Regan and Jane O'Faherty

Published 08/01/2016 | 02:30

Patients who are already enduring trolley misery are facing even greater risk following a warning by nurses that they will strike in seven emergency departments next Thursday.

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Angry members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), who met to discuss a ballot in favour of rolling, two-hour stoppages in protest at emergency overcrowding, refused to pull back from their threat which will see nurses walk off the job.

Talks are due to take place between the union and the HSE to avert the action, which will bring chaos to struggling hospitals coping with the surge in patients and causing dangerous levels of overcrowding.

However, INMO chief Liam Doran warned that hospitals and employers had a "mountain" to climb to convince nurses who have little faith that promised measures to relieve the bottlenecks will be implemented.

He said Monday's cramming of patients in congested emergency departments could have been eased if these measures were put in place last weekend.

Nurses now had "real concerns" they could end up facing inquiries because of the conditions which were leaving them hampered in delivering a proper range of care to very ill patients, he insisted.

If it is not resolved, the work stoppages will be triggered from 8am in Beaumont Hospital and Tallaght Hospital in Dublin; Mercy Hospital Cork; Cavan General; Tullamore Hospital; University Hospital Galway; and University Hospital Waterford.

The union welcomed a Special Delivery Unit review promised by Health Minister Leo Varadkar of 10 hospitals to examine how well they prepared for Monday's influx of emergency patients.

If a resolution is not found early next week, hundreds of waiting list patients will also have operations cancelled.

Mr Varadkar said yesterday he understood the frustration of the nurses, but he hoped they can be convinced of the level of commitment needed to tackle the ongoing overcrowding crisis.

He warned again, however, that there was no quick fix and it would require around five years of sustained investment before the level of change needed is achieved.

The numbers on trolleys fell slightly yesterday but 427 were still waiting for a bed, with Beaumont, Limerick, Kilkenny as well as Our Lady of Lourdes Drogheda, under major pressure.

Commenting on revelations in yesterday's Irish Independent that 100 of the promised 300 new hospital beds were still not open, Mr Varadkar said: "That's not a decision not to open them. It's just wasn't possible to get staff in certain hospitals.

"I should say that it would be a mistake to think that everything is about additional beds in hospitals. We have 500 beds more than we had this time last year, yet overcrowding is only down by 100 or so.

"There is rising demand, and we need to do a lot more in primary care and social care. But bed capacity is part of the problem and we shouldn't forget that.

"During the boom period under the last government, 1,000 hospital beds were taken out of our hospitals and 1,000 more were turned from acute beds into day beds.

"It's only now that the economy is recovering that we are able to put 300 or 400 of those back into action. We will need, as we keep the economic recovery going, a five-year plan to restore the capacity that was taken out of our hospitals during the boom period by the last government."

Irish Independent

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