Over 4,000 nurses will work while colleagues strike
Siptu says its members will not take part in stoppages - but won't 'frustrate' dispute
Over 4,000 nurses are set to break ranks with their colleagues during six 24-hour strikes from the end of the month.
Siptu will instruct its nursing members to go to work during 24-hour stoppages by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation from January 30, as they are not part of the dispute.
However, the union will insist they do not "frustrate" the dispute by taking on the work of absent colleagues.
The fact that 4,000 nurses may turn up for work will give the HSE some comfort as it draws up contingency plans.
But over 40,000 of their colleagues plan to mount pickets on January 30 and five dates the following month, in pursuit of new pay rises to put their wages on a par with professionals like radiographers.
A union for another 6,000 psychiatric nurses, that is also demanding pay hikes on top of what is already committed under the current public sector pay deal, is also due to announce strike dates today.
Speaking during his trip to Africa, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was "saddened" that nurses decided to strike on a Wednesday as thousands of operations and clinic appointments will be cancelled.
"They had the option of striking on a Saturday or Sunday, which would have had the same political impact and put the same amount of pressure on the Government to resolve the problem and engage, but it wouldn't have had such a big impact on patients," he said.
"Many of those people, and I am just thinking of them, will have had a date in their minds for January 30 and might have been waiting months for those appointments, and even if the strike is called off at the last minute it will be too late to reschedule. So I do regret it."
He said there is a pay deal with all public servants that provides for five different pay increases in 2019.
"All of that is costing hundreds of millions of euro," he said, adding that the State would have to borrow to fund more increases.
"And even if we had that money, we might need it for Brexit in 10 weeks' time. We certainly need it for housing."
Patients and health services will face particularly intense hardship if nurses and midwives go ahead with the stoppages, the HSE warned.
Health service chiefs said the impact will be more severe because of the winter pressures which are leading to overcrowding.
Although nurses will continue to provide emergency cover, this will mean hospitals will be in virtual shutdown, while only the most serious cases of people living in the community will be visited by public health nurses.
Hospitals saw a spike in the numbers of patients on trolleys in the past week and doctors warn the crisis may worsen.
Meanwhile, Paul Bell of Siptu said the union will issue an official notice to its nursing members in the coming days outlining the union's position.
"We are telling our people that they will go to work on the basis that they are not involved in a strike, but not to frustrate the dispute," he said.
He said the union is adhering to the existing pay agreement that means nurses' pay will be a standalone issue in the next deal.
Health Minister Simon Harris has organised talks between health sector management and the nursing unions next Tuesday.
The INMO will be asked to explain where it sees room for manoeuvre to resolve the row under the existing pay deal.
It may seek a review to examine nurses' pay in relation to other professions "at an appropriate time", as suggested in a Public Service Pay Commission report.
But Government sources said it "will not fly" with the Expenditure or Health departments if it depends solely on this clause.