Wednesday 26 October 2016

Florence Horsman Hogan: A&E strike is about care, not cash

Being abused by drunks and drug addicts is one thing, but the trolley crisis is a bridge too far for nurses, writes Florence Horsman Hogan

Florence Horsman Hogan

Published 13/12/2015 | 02:30

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As what you might call one of the 'old-style' nurses, I've always deplored the idea of nurses taking any sort of industrial action. I have what might be termed 'old-fashioned' values and beliefs in why I became a nurse. Back in the 1980s when I trained, it wasn't for the money or glory - there was very little of either. But what did exist in abundance was the desire to be the one to make a difference to someone in need of care. To hold the hand of someone who was sick and scared. And to say to them, you're not alone.

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No, I never did like the idea of nurses taking strike action. But for the upcoming campaign starting on Tuesday, I'm 100pc behind my colleagues - the A&E nurses who will commence their campaign in seven hospitals across the country to protest at overcrowding and staff shortages.

Reluctantly, they are fighting the good fight for their patients. What the nurses want is additional staff, retention initiatives and greater adherence to health and safety legislation. I am not an A&E nurse, but many of my friends are. Emergency department nurses are a very special breed. All of us nurses need to have that essential core of compassion. But those on the emergency frontlines have to be able to think quickly on their feet.

Between the lifesaving responses to cardiac arrests, critical road accidents and the Saturday night attacks of drunks and drug addicts - the A&E nurses are used to taking everything that humanity throws at them. They emphatically would not be taking strike action lightly.

So why are they doing it? Basically because they have had enough.

Over the past 12 years, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation commenced what has become known as its 'Trolley Watch'. According to these figures, the number of admitted patients on trolleys has grown every year since, and, this year, to date, there have been 80,000 patients on trolleys, which is up 24pc on 2014.

In response to this problem there have been a number of initiatives. As far back as 2007, then health minister Mary Harney declared overcrowding to be a national emergency, warranting immediate attention. In 2009, we had the establishment of the A&E Forum, which was set up to aggressively manage the situation. In 2014, health minister Leo Varadkar established an Emergency Department Taskforce. The taskforce reported in the first week of April and made 80 recommendations which could significantly reduce the problem.

All of these initiatives are to be welcomed but they have all failed to make any serious inroads in the volume of admitted patients who are on trolleys in our A&Es. Parallel with this we had a recruitment ban which saw nursing numbers cut by 5,000.

The reality is we will have trolleys in our A&Es long into the future. In that context, the least patients, and these nurses, deserve is an environment that is adequately staffed so that care and quality can be maintained.

Sunday Independent

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