Hospitals facing shortage of agency nurses despite spending €80m on them in 2016
Hospitals that rely heavily on agency nurses to maintain services in the absence of permanent staff are discovering these are also in short supply.
Liam Doran, head of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), said that agencies only had enough nurses to supply around 60pc to 70pc of the numbers demanded. This is despite the fact hospitals spent €80m on their services last year.
The shortage was particularly felt outside of Dublin, he said.
Mr Doran was speaking ahead of a union executive meeting due to take place next Monday, which will decide whether to give notice of industrial action. This could see a work-to-rule imposed by nurses at the end of February, escalating to one-day work stoppages.
The union reported "no progress" following talks with the HSE and the Department of Health.
No new talks at the Workplace Relations Commission are planned.
A spokeswoman for the HSE said yesterday it was "continuing to engage with the INMO in an effort to resolve any outstanding issues".
Speaking at the special session of the Oireachtas health committee on the trolley crisis, Mr Doran said the conditions in which many nurses worked at emergency departments were a disgrace.
The emergency unit in University Hospital Limerick was no more than "a walk-in wardrobe".
There were 493 patients on trolleys yesterday morning, with nearly 50 waiting for a bed for more than 24 hours.
Liam Woods, director of acute hospitals, told the committee that lack of staff was one of the reasons why 150 hospital beds and 190 community beds were closed.
A lack of nurses was also hampering efforts to open up surge-capacity beds in some hospitals to deal with a spike in overcrowding, he said.