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No offer of new pay hikes to head off nursing strike

Government considers 'non-pay measures' as walkout looms

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The Government will consider non-pay measures such as increasing staffing levels and improving working conditions in hospitals in order to avert a nursing strike this week.

It is also willing to consider the establishment of a special commission to examine nursing pay levels within the terms set out by the Public Sector Pay Commission.

However, there will be no offer of additional funding for pay increases to meet the demands of nurses and midwives due to fears it will result in other unions making pay demands.

The Government will also expect a commitment to call off all industrial action in return for any proposals it makes relating to staffing and working conditions.

Last Friday, industrial relations talks between nurses and the HSE collapsed as both sides refused to budge ahead of a planned 24-hour strike on Wednesday, which will severely impact on patient safety.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) was yesterday preparing strike committees ahead of Wednesday's planned industrial action.

The Psychiatric Nurses Association is also preparing for strike action by its members this week.

An informed source said there is currently a 60/40 chance of more than 35,000 nurses striking.

However, the Government considers the talks to be "suspended rather than collapsed" and the INMO said it is still available for talks.

Yesterday, INMO general secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha said she believes strike action on Wednesday is inevitable because there has been a lack of serious engagement by the HSE.

Ms Ni Sheaghdha told the Sunday Independent: "As always, we are available but we wouldn't expect the strike can be averted at this point."

She dismissed suggestions of the Government offering to address staffing levels, saying the HSE announced the establishment of a nursing task force last year but did not commit any funding to the initiative.

"It is a measurement tool that tells us how many nurses we need but it doesn't tell us how we get them," she said.

Ms Ni Sheaghdha insisted she has never requested a 12pc pay increase for nurses, which would cost the taxpayers €300m. She said this was a "Government figure".

"What we said is Ireland is in a global economy, we are competing for nurses, we are losing the battle and we cannot staff our wards, therefore we need to pay our nurses with a comparative salary to international colleagues," she said.

"Patients in Irish hospitals are being subjected to unsafe care. We need to make it safer and that requires more nurses and we want to see Government proposals in that regard and we have seen none."

The INMO has also called on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to intervene in the dispute.

Meanwhile, the HSE has warned the strike action will compromise patient safety in hospitals.

In a memo to staff, the HSE said only life-saving services will be operated during the 24-hour industrial action.

The HSE said there will be no nursing cover for local injury units, gynaecological appointments or procedures or outpatient maternity services during the strike.

Sunday Independent