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Why has Health Minister James Reilly branded striking nurses irresponsible?

IN fact, these nurses and their countless colleagues all over the country are the true heroes of a disfunctional health system.

These nurses went on a four-hour stoppage for the most altruistic reason -- the patients they serve.

I know firsthand the work these angels of the HSE carry out day in, day out in our dreadful hospitals.

I will never forget it. Two months ago I'm driving in the car, my sister sitting beside me, neither of us saying anything. We are following an ambulance taking her husband to Waterford Regional Hospital.

Thanks to the quick thinking of a local doctor, he was diagnosed with suspected meningitis.

We get to the hospital where the medical and nursing teams spring into action. My sister is distressed as her husband is seriously ill. We pray he will make it.

What I learned from that experience is that the striking nurses are real heroes.

I say credit to them for highlighting the time bomb in the hospitals.

Credit to them as bloated middle and upper management protect themselves while patient care faces cutbacks.

In Waterford Hospital alone, even laundry staff cannot take annual leave because there is no money to pay agency personnel to cover them.

This dispute highlights everything that is wrong with our health service. Over the past 10 years we have had a huge rise in the numbers of administrators and management types.

Sometimes that has been necessary to provide back-up for frontline services.

But at other times it is the management apparatchiks breeding more and more jobs to protect their power and position. Don't forget that many of these types rose through the ranks at a time when political patronage was truly alive and well.

Dr James Reilly promised to tackle this. Instead of attacking the nurses, he should get on with his promises.

We are now heading into a winter where you will pray you or one of your family members do not get sick. That is no criticism of our medics or nurses. But the system.

Take the beds issue. Under Mary Harney and Prof Drumm we were told that private co-located hospitals would take up the slack.

At the time I warned this would not happen. I was mocked and derided when I said this. Well, look around today. Where are all the new beds?

The second problem is that the geniuses running the HSE hate change.

I think back to our family emergency this summer. My brother in law made it. The nursing staff were superb. One in particular was running the show, helping junior doctors on the medical side while trying to organise a bed. After he was treated and discharged, he told me about the amazing nurses and the excellent care he received.

Sure, the nursing unions are self-interested. But as they warn that these strikes could spread, we need to listen to them. It could be one of your family in A&E next time. You'd want the best care, wouldn't you?