Nurses seek to shut down wards over hiring row
A UNION has called for ward closures at major hospitals as 400 student nurses will not be replaced after returning to their studies from next week.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said it has been informed that the Health Service Executive (HSE) will not hire staff nurses to fill the vacancies in the western region from next Wednesday.
It said it has an agreement with the HSE to put 200 staff nurses in the trainee nurses' jobs after they return to their studies each year.
By failing to put the staff nurses in place over the next 16 weeks before the next undergraduates begin their placement, it claims the HSE will be in breach of a national agreement it signed with the union in 2002.
It said this deal committed the HSE to replace the student nurses with staff nurses.
INMO General Secretary Liam Doran said the move will mean Sligo General Hospital will be down 19 staff nurses and Mayo General Hospital will be down 14 from next Wednesday.
"The HSE does not intend to replace rostered clinical students who finish their undergraduate placement between now and mid-September, despite there being an agreement on this," he said.
"They would normally be replaced with about 200 staff nurses on a two-to-one basis before the next class of undergraduates begin.
"This will have huge implications for frontline services and we will be seeking immediate ward closures in the major hospitals so the remaining wards are properly staffed."
The union said the move is part of the HSE's plans to slash costs in the HSE West region as it anticipates a budget overun of €90m by the end of the year.
It is in talks with unions after announcing sweeping cuts, including the closure of a children's residential service in Galway and small health centres, cuts in home help services, bed closures and ward reductions.
However, the INMO said the plan not to replace student nurses was not brought up during presentations to unions recently, and it had heard of the move informally.
The HSE however confirmed that it had been in talks with the union on the issue.
"The issue of the student nurse agreement was referred to and heard by the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) yesterday," it said yesterday. "The outcome from the LRC has now been referred to the Labour Court."
Next Monday is the deadline for talks between the HSE West and all the health unions on the cutbacks. A special meeting will take place on Tuesday, when the HSE hopes to have agreement. The INMO said it will be raising the non-replacement of student nurses at the meeting.
Sources at the talks said there had been little agreement locally on the measures being sought, including the health employer's plan to get staff to take voluntary unpaid leave to cut costs.