Varadkar turns down offer from nurses to work a shift in A&E
Health Minister Leo Varadkar has turned down a request to spend 12 hours on a shift at one of the country's busiest hospitals.
Staff at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda say the Minister can only get to grips with the crisis in the health system by seeing what happens himself.
However, the minister, a qualified doctor, told the Irish Independent he can't take up the offer for insurance reasons.
"There would of course be issues of privacy and confidentiality for patients who may not want a politician in a clinical area while they are sick," said the Minister.
"It is not clear if the nurses concerned have sought the consent of patients or the permission of the emergency department head or the hospital board. Moreover, I am not a hospital employee and am no longer registered or insured with the medical council."
The medical staff will go ahead with a protest at lunchtime tomorrow to highlight their ongoing concerns over the conditions in the department, which frequently has more than 40 people who have been admitted an in-patients, waiting on trolleys for beds on wards.
In the year to July, the number of admitted patients who were on trolleys had doubled to 632 from 317, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).
A number of nurses, who spoke on the basis of anonymity, said the solution to over-crowding and people being nursed on trolleys "is not brain surgery. We need more beds and more staff".
The message to the Minister for Health is: "Please make it better because we deserve more. Staff make heroic efforts there every day."
One nurse said that the thought of going to work brings a sense of "dread and horror with it" because of the stress that people are under.
"Both patients and staff feel the stress," said one staff member. "Patients are being looked after in very unsafe conditions. One nurse could be looking after 15 patients or maybe more. It is unacceptable."
Another nurse complained: "From a human rights point of view, there are issues with facilities; there is one shower in the whole department. There is no privacy, nowhere to store your personal items, the conditions are just unacceptable and really the humanity is gone out of the health system.
"There are officially 12 spaces in ED for adults and from the day the casualty opened we have never not had just those numbers. It hasn't been fit for purpose from the time it opened. It has never had the capacity for the numbers
"The problems have to be fixable. Extra beds in the community and the main hospital are absolutely essential because the emergency department is being used as a ward and it is not a ward."
Another nurse claimed: "Sometimes after work you are crying as you drive home. You are not able to sleep thinking about the poor patients that you have left behind, your head is thumping as you re-live and re-run the last shift. Sometimes nurses need to be consoled by their colleagues before they begin another nightmare shift in an over-crowded department. We are professional and put on our best face so the patients and relatives never know the pressure we are under."
They invited him to spend the day with them - a move supported by Tony Fitzpatrick of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisations.
"The conditions are intolerable for the nurses and for the patients," said Fitzpatrick. "It cannot continue and I would stand by the invitation to the Minister. To understand how bad it is, you have to spend time there."
He confirmed there will be a lunch-hour protest at the hospital tomorrow to highlight a situation he described as "chaotic and unacceptable" and called for public support for the nurses' stance.
"The Minister should be proud of us," one nurse added.