Ward closures loom with nurses' dispute in deadlock
The prospect of ward closures and widespread cancellation of hospital procedures has increased as the nurses' dispute remains in stalemate.
Thousands of nurses who are members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) have served notice of industrial action, beginning with a work-to-rule on March 7, following the breakdown of talks with health employers over staff recruitment and retention.
Union officials put their side to the oversight group for the Lansdowne Road pay agreement yesterday but it is likely to be next week before the group decides if it is worth recommending both sides to go to the Workplace Relations Commission.
"As of now, the employers say there is nothing more in the cupboard," said the INMO deputy general secretary Dave Hughes.
If the work-to-rule goes ahead, nurses will refuse to be deployed to departments or wards which are short-staffed, which will force hospitals to close beds and drastically reduce certain high-risk procedures, including surgery, in the interests of safety. This would be followed by an escalation which would see all hospitals hit by a one-day work stoppage.
It comes as the latest waiting-list figures show more than 630,000 public patients are on some form of waiting list.
Mr Hughes said the failure to meet union demands, including the payment of nurses who work through their meal breaks and the restoration of certain allowances worth around €2,500 a year to nurses hired after 2012, was among the reasons for the breakdown in talks.
The union was also seeking payment for unscheduled overtime as well as an hour a week which nurses could devote to professional development.
Mr Hughes said the employers were offering to improve on the €1,500 relocation package which was offered to nurses in the UK who were willing to take up posts here. They were offering a second €1,500 after a period of 18 months.
The employers repeated their offer to hire an additional 1,200 full-time nurses but after the union was unsatisfied with the guarantees and autonomy to hire given to Directors of Nursing on this, a ministerial order had to be obtained late in the talks.
These full-time posts would be offset by around 800 nurses who will retire.
They would mostly be in exchange for nurses who currently work in the health service through an agency.
Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Paschal Donohoe said yesterday the Government remains committed to a collective approach to industrial peace and the setting of public pay, and expects continued adherence to the Lansdowne Road agreement by all signatories.
The oversight group would continue to engage.