IRISH nurses and midwives voted to ballot for industrial action if major progress is not achieved over long-standing pay and working conditions grievances.
Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) delegates voted overwhelmingly at their 99th annual conference in Cork to immediately ballot for industrial action, up to all-out strikes, if the outcome of Public Service Pay Commission (PSPC) negotiations next month are rejected.
INMO members warned that the PSPC talks now hinge on the issue of pay parity being resolved - and slated the fact nurses and midwives were routinely treated as "the poor relations of the entire healthcare system."
"They are going to be hit by the INMO juggernaut unless they address the pay issue right now," INMO official Tony Fitzpatrick warned.
"There is a recruitment and retention crisis for nurses within the Irish healthcare system by the Health Service Executive (HSE) are in denial."
The INMO slated as "a total disgrace" the fact Ireland now has less acute hospital beds today than under former Taoiseach Charles Haughey and the swingeing health cutbacks of 1987.
Ireland also has 2,000 less nurses working today than Ireland had in 2008.
An INMO survey of Fourth Year nursing students found that 71pc are now considering quitting Ireland and working overseas because of pay and working condition concerns.
INMO delegate Margaret Frahill warned that unless the issue of low pay is tackled, graduate Irish nurses will flood out of the system to better paid overseas jobs.
There is now almost a 25pc pay differential between Irish nurses and their Australian counterparts.
INMO delegate Siobhan O'Brien warned the crisis facing the healthcare system will only get worse if firm action is not taken.
"We as nurses are the cornerstone of the health service - we need that recognition and we need to be valued. It is just unbelievable to consider that someone without a professional qualification is on a higher pay grade than nurses?"
INMO President Martina Harkin-Kelly warned that nurses will not tolerate any further excuses or delays in tackling pay and working conditions.
"Our members will not accept any further delays in addressing these two fundamental issues of pay and working conditions," she warned.
"We believe the evidence of low pay affecting nurses and midwives decision to leave the Irish public service is very real and a cause of major concern to the INMO."
INMO General Secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha stressed that the pay and working conditions crisis now dominates the nursing profession.
"The pay gap is having real and sustained effect on the ability to recruit and retain nurses and midwives and therefore growing the service for the future is simply not going to be possible."
INMO delegates also hit out at the treatment of elderly people in Ireland as "worse than cattle at a cattle mart."
INMO delegate Sandra Morton emotionally hit out at the treatment of some elderly patients within a healthcare system that is stretched to the limit in terms of resources.
"They (elderly people) are treated worse than cattle at a cattle mart," she said.
"If we don't stand up for these people today, what are nurses and midwives for?"
"We are the only people in this country stopping death."
"A very clear message needs to go back to the HSE and to Tony O'Brien."
Ms Morton was speaking at the INMO's 99th delegate conference in Cork dealt with motions on stopping the privatisation of home care services and the provision of medical cards to people based on nursing need rather than means testing.
The conference also overwhelmingly passed a motion from Dublin North INMO branch calling for a support system for nurses and midwives facing Fitness To Practice (FTP) hearings.
Dr Edward Mathews , INMO Director of Social Policy and Regulation, warned that such FTP processes exert enormous strain on nurses and midwives - with some admitting the strain was so great they even suffered from suicidal ideation.
In 2017, the INMO spent Euro 600,000 in supporting members in such FTP hearings.
A single FTP case can cost up to Euro 20,000 just for the preliminary process and, if it goes to full hearing, it can cost as much as Euro 80,000.
“The time taken to go to hearing is increasing and the devastation experienced by our members is very concerning," he said.
“This is a reality colleagues. It is the worst time in people’s lives and it is perfectly common for us to encounter suicidal ideation, paranoia, depression, and anxiety as part of this process."
"More must be done by both the Nursing and Midwifery Board and employers to support nurses and midwives who are the subject of regulation in this way. It can’t all fall to us to support people."
“Regulation is a fact of life, and we have to support those who are regulated as well as regulating them."
“Just remember this - the level of media coverage associated with a FTP hearing is equivalent to someone going into the Central Criminal Court on a serious criminal charge."
“It will be dealt with on every national broadcaster, every local broadcaster, national print media and local print media."
"This is the type of environment that nurses and midwives exist in, that is the level of responsibility and accountability placed on the first day that you walk on the ward."
Dr Mathews said the INMO is now seeking that the FTP process be expedited, that hearing be in private but the outcome be published and that regulators support nurses and midwives rather than just pursuing them.