Avoid emergency department unless you are seriously injured or ill, major hospital warns
- More than 35,000 striking nurses took to pickets at 8am
- Cancellation of services for 25,000 patients and other vulnerable people
- Services in the community which will not operate include day centres for the elderly, health centre clinics, routine home visits and community outpatient services
A major hospital has told patients to avoid the emergency department unless they are "seriously injured or ill" amid the fallout of the nurses' strike.
More than 35,000 nurses hit the picket lines across the country as they began their industrial action.
Some hospitals are already feeling the brunt of the strike - with further pressure on emergency departments expected tomorrow.
The Emergency Department at University Hospital Limerick is currently "very busy", it said in a statement, with "a high number of patients waiting for beds and experiencing extended waits".
It added: "UL Hospitals Group is reminding members of the public to consider their care options before presenting to the ED.
“If you are unwell, please go to your GP or pharmacy in the first instance. However, if you are seriously injured or ill or are worried your life is at risk the ED will assess and treat you as a priority.”
“We apologise to any patients who are experiencing long waits while we prioritise the sickest patients.”
Nurses defended their right to strike in the battle for pay parity.
In Crumlin, hundreds of nurses began marching up and down Cooley Road outside Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital at 8am.
Anne Marie McGuinness from Lusk, Co Dublin said they didn’t want it to come to this.
"There’s not one nurse walking up and down the picket line that wants to be on the picket line, where they want to be is in looking after their patients," she said.
"This industrial action is not about a pay increase. What it’s about is pay parity and recognition for the highly skilled nurses that we have in this organisation and organisations throughout this country.
"There are hundreds of highly skilled nurses that have trained here and qualified here, they’re leaving this country to go work in organisations all over the world," she added.
Her colleague, Helene Murchain, a cardiac nurse specialist from Dundrum, said she was on strike in 1999 and said; "I never thought we’d have to come back to this".
"When I qualified in 1987 I’m one of the nurses that had to leave the country because there were no jobs for us, there was no adequate pay," she said.
"Now we’re in a situation where people look at our salary slips but they don’t realise the issues that are happening.
"We’re losing staff all the time, senior nurses are leaving, trying to staff the wards adequately and safely to maintain quality patient care for our patients and their families," she added.
Radiology nurse, Seamus Keogh, from Dooradoyle Co Limerick said moral is at an all time low.
“The main challenges are giving the patients the time and giving them the care they need.”
Mr Keogh said he has seen €500 taken from his monthly wage in taxes and charges since 2008.
“It’s a big whack on a house. I’ve one child and my other half isn’t working at the moment. I don't want to be out here on the picket; I don’t want to be loosing a day’s pay, two days possibly next week and three days the next, but I’m willing to take the hit for the team and drive on, and I think we’ll succeed.
“The message to the Government is to engage. They‘ll have to listen, just look at the crowds, if they don't listen to us, its borderline ignorance.”
As soon as nurses began their stoppage, they faced a freeze of their incremental pay hikes, loss of a wage boost for recent recruits worth €3,300 each, as well as a day's pay.
But those who provided emergency cover will get paid, a departure from the norm during health sector strikes.
The rest will get a small contribution from their union as strike pay.
There are fears that some A&E departments could become flash points of safety risk as the bad weather increases the numbers of patients to seek emergency care.
A last-ditch attempt to bring the nurses back from the brink of industrial action in the row over their demand for a 12pc pay rise failed earlier this week.
The Labour Court found no basis to intervene after eight hours of exploratory talks with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and Government officials.
It will continue to assess what assistance it might provide "at the appropriate time".
As well as today's stoppage, the nurses plan strikes next Tuesday and Thursday, and three consecutive strikes on February 12, 13 and 14.
The health system faces further pressure tomorrow as psychiatric nurses refuse to work overtime.
The nurses want a 12pc pay rise on top of increases already due under the public sector pay deal.
Sources revealed that INMO leaders sought a pay rise upfront during the 11th-hour talks, plus a review of their pay and responsibilities.
They were willing to discuss "development" of their positions but Government officials are "not on the same page".
Further strike action is already planned but the INMO has not ruled out adding to this again.
The INMO said they are available for talks to avoid further industrial action.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said the nursing unions are seeking a significant pay rise over and above all of the benefits of the current wage agreement, which they signed up to.
He said he had no doubt that conceding the pay demand would generate leapfrogging claims from the rest of the public service workforce.
Fianna Fáil's health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly called for a nurses to be "taken seriously" and "treated with respect".
He said his party strongly supports the nurses and midwives saying none of them wants to be on strike but they've been raising "serious issues" on inequitable pay grades, staffing, patient safety and working conditions since 2013.
He said a lot of them are "feeling burnt out" and the "anger and frustration around the country is palpable".
Mr Donnelly said "The reality is there is a recruitment and retention problem, there are issues with staffing."
He said there needs to be "meaningful engagement" and claimed "that hasn’t really happened. They need to be listened to properly."
He argued that nurses are feeling that they're not being respected by the Government" and added: "That needs to change".
Mr Donnelly said his party's solution would be engagement that offers nurses a "clear pathway" to resolving the issues that they've raised.
He said it would be up to the government and the INMO who would be involved in such talks, listing the Workplace Relations Commission. the Labour Court, the HSE and the Department of Health and Simon Harris as bodies and individuals "that can be brought into play".
He was asked about concern that other public sector unions would seek new pay deals if the nurses' demands are granted.
Mr Donnelly said the national pay agreement must be protected while addressing the issues raised by nurses.
He claimed the national pay agreement allows for mechanism to address sector-by-sector issues if there are difficulties in recruitment and retention.
He said one examples is Galway University Hospital where a third of operating theatres are closed on a daily basis because it can't hire enough theatre nurses.
Mr Donnelly added: "Individual cases like that are happening all over the system and they’re having huge impacts on patients, patient safety, waiting lists, access to healthcare.
"The nurses and midwives know this. They want this resolved. They want patient care at the centre of this. They want be taken seriously and they want to be treated with respect and that’s what we’re calling on the government to do."