Progress in talks to avert strike by nurses
A named senior manager in all 26 hospitals with emergency departments would be held personally accountable for triggering a crisis plan to reduce overcrowding when it reaches particularly dangerous levels.
The accountability measure is part of key set of demands at the centre of tense negotiations which were still under way between the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and the HSE last night in a bid to avert the nurses’ strike on Thursday.
Both sides who began talks on Saturday are under pressure to agree a set of proposals to put to ballot again and avoid hospitals having to start contacting patients on waiting lists from today to tell them their operations are cancelled as part of contingency measures.
Documents which had yet to be agreed by both sides were finally drawn up after hours of talks yesterday, which led to issues being broken down into three groups.
Sources said the progress was slow but that all sides were determined to come up with workable proposals that could be sold to nurses who voted against the previous deal by a narrow majority.
Entering the talks, the nurses’ union chief Liam Doran said it would be a long day and he could not predict the outcome.
However, Kieran Mulvey, co-chairman of the talks, said he was hopeful that a document could be drawn up that would be acceptable.
“Hospitals need to know that staff will be available on Thursday,” he said.
The nurses are threatening to walk off the job in the emergency departments of seven hospitals on Thursday as part of their protest at emergency unit congestion, which led to 550 patients on trolleys last week.
It understood that progress has been made in drawing up proposals aimed at assuring the nurses that the escalation plan, involving a series of measures including having senior consultants doing ward rounds to discharge patients and cancelling admissions of patients on waiting lists in order to free up beds.
The union is believed to be insisting that the agreements are binding in all hospitals and pointing to the differing picture which emerged last week which saw hospitals like Tallaght in Dublin bring overcrowding under control while Beaumont in the north of the city continued to suffer severe gridlock.
The failure of some hospitals to trigger the crisis plan when one third of cubicles in emergency departments are occupied by patients who need a bed has been highlighted by the union during the talks.
All sides agreed that the plan must be made binding at local level in each hospital if it is to have full impact.
The agreement is set to have implications on patients on public waiting lists who have appointments in the coming weeks to be admitted to hospital for surgery after waiting more than a year and a half for an operation.
This will cause tensions with doctors in specialities across the hospital who have patients they are concerned about who need to be admitted.
The nurses’ union also wants hospitals to only transfer some patients who are on trolleys in crammed emergency departments on wards.
Although the patients remain on a trolley they are in a calmer environment and at less risk while also freeing up space in an emergency department where doctors and nurses are squeezing between trolleys.
The nurses have already won concessions such as two extra days’ leave, promotions and educational bursaries.
The union also wants headway to be made in other incentives, such as student nurses’ remuneration.
If the strike goes ahead, it will result in two-hour stoppages in the emergency department of seven hospitals, including Beaumont and Tallaght in Dublin, Cavan Hospital, Tullamore, Galway and Waterford Hospitals. It will also affect Mercy Hospital in Cork.