Nurses have been systematically ignored and insulted by the Government, the opposition has claimed.
Fianna Fail health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said nurses’ concerns had been neglected, and he called on the Government to engage with unions ahead of their planned industrial action.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) will hold the first of six nationwide 24-hour strikes on January 30, while the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) is planning a three-day stoppage from February 12.
“The nurses and midwives have been systematically ignored, they have been systematically insulted by the Taoiseach a few weeks ago blaming them for causing the trolley crisis in winter by daring to take a few days off,” Mr Donnelly said.
Fianna Fail was scheduled to table a private members’ Bill on Wednesday afternoon calling on the Government to urgently and meaningfully engage with the nurses and midwives and also establish an independent commission on the professions of nurses and midwifery to look at pay and conditions as well as staffing and career development.
“We believe using the commission would be a way of addressing the issues of pay and allowances and staffing within the existing national pay frameworks which Fianna Fail support too,” he said.
But Mr Donnelly said if the INMO strike goes ahead as planned it would only be the second national strike by the organisation in 100 years.
The INMO says the decision to hold a national strike is in response to low wages and concerns of safe staffing in the public health service.
The organisation claims that the number of staff nurses fell by 6% (1,754) between 2008 and 2018.
However, talks have been taking place this week between relevant stakeholders and the Government to try and resolve the issue.
The PNA’s 6,000 members are planning to refuse to do overtime on January 31 and on February 1, 5, 6 and 7.
Fianna Fail’s mental health spokesman James Browne said psychiatric nurses had issues around retention and recruitment.
“They’re under intolerable stress, pressure and isolation and they’re voting with their feet,” Mr Browne said.
“They’re resigning from the service … or retraining into other sectors.”
Between January 2017 and September 2018, Mr Browne said there had been a 40% increase in the number of vacancies for psychiatric nurses.
He added that 55 million euro was added to the mental health budget as a result of the confidence and supply budget, but in the previous year he said almost a similar amount was spent on agency staff by the HSE on mental health staff because it could get the necessary services.
Retention is one of the factors also affecting nurses and midwives.
Mr Donnelly said Irish nurses were leaving the country because the starting salary for nurses in Ireland was significantly lower than it is in Canada, Australia and the US.
“Our nurses are graduating … they’re getting phone calls from their friends saying: ‘I’m in Boston, I’m in Sydney, I’m in Ontario, I’m getting paid a lot more money – and by the way it’s a lot more cheaper to live here, why don’t you come over’?”
He said nurses around the country were asking what he described as “a very reasonable question” as to why they are the lowest-paid degree level graduates in the Irish healthcare system.
“The threatened strike is around pay parity and the Government to date has failed to address that issue,” he said.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Tuesday that the decision to ballot for strike action reflected the depth of feeling that nurses and midwives had about their pay and conditions.
Mr Varadkar said that the government would do its best “try to avoid” the work stoppages taking place.