Tuesday 23 July 2019

Eilish O'Regan: 'After the relief comes questions of how deal will benefit patients'

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The relief at the suspension of three days of planned strike action by nurses was widely felt last night amid growing fears for patient safety.

But once the immediate reaction has passed, what will the deal mean for patients?

It will take time for hospitals and community services to recover from the three days of industrial action so far and 40,000 patients whose surgery or clinic appointments were cancelled paid a heavy price.

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The nurses' promise during the heated campaign in recent weeks was that a better remunerated profession would reduce the recruitment and retention problems in hospitals in particular.

We would see less understaffed wards and closed theatres at a time when 70,000 patients are on a waiting list for surgery.

Any pay increase will inevitably help to attract more nurses to jobs and bolster the income of existing staff, who will be more inclined to stay here.

It will also send a message to nurses that their work is valued and improve Irish hospitals' ranking when competing for staff with other international healthcare systems.

But the truth is the extent of the benefit has yet to be measured.

The warm shores of Australia may still prove too tempting for young nursing graduates who are lucky enough to have a profession which is an international job passport.

It is also unclear where the funding for the deal is coming from, for instance.

Could it be that it will have to be found in the HSE budget for other services?

The problems of the health service extend beyond nursing shortages.

There were nearly 600 patients on trolleys yesterday around the country, for instance.

Lack of beds in some of our most overcrowded hospitals mean the trolley crisis has not gone away.

The nurses' action may also have the effect of unsettling other health staff who do not feel rewarded, in particular recently recruited consultants.

They have a grievance because their pay is still lower than longer-serving consultants due to cuts imposed in the recession.

The deal with the nurses will inevitably lead to more discontent from this group, who are already warning that too may specialist posts here cannot be filled because of the pay gap.

It remains to be seen what kind of yield comes from productivity agreements in the deal.

The agreement struck with nurses on its own must be part of a wider overhaul of staffing.

These include more use of other grade of worker, such as theatre assistant, to help relieve staff shortages.

The new contract for nurses envisages shifting more work to the community, which is part of the Sláintecare plan. That is to be welcomed, although progress on this so far is slow.

Irish Independent

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