NURSES have warned they will not take over the duties of junior hospital doctors if a threatened all-out strike by the trainee medics goes ahead next week.
The pledge of support came as talks opened at the Labour Relations Commission between the HSE and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) in a bid to resolve the dispute over the long hours worked by junior doctors.
Two hospitals are to be visited this week to determine how rosters can be drawn up to ensure junior doctors do not work shifts of more than 24 hours.
The agreement that representatives of the HSE and IMO would visit the hospitals was reached on the opening day of talks.
Junior doctors are threatening to hold an all-out hospital strike next Wednesday as part of their campaign to reduce their hours.
They want an end to shifts of more than 24 hours and an agreement that the 48-hour week will be in place at the end of next year.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) also piled the pressure on hospital managers, saying they will work as normal but not step in to do any of the doctors' work. It means looming chaos for thousands of patients.
INMO general secretary Liam Doran said: "The HSE is clearly in breach of both Irish and EU law and is exposing the State to very substantial fines for their continuing failure to implement the law having breached all deadlines.
"It is unacceptable that they have now forced doctors into dispute in order to achieve safe working hours and protect patients.
"Nurses and midwives stand firmly with their medical colleagues and will not do anything to undermine the dispute."
The new visits will be part of a verification exercise to see how it can be rolled out in all hospitals. Both sides will re-convene at the Labour Relations Commission on Friday to resume negotiations.