Nurses have warned they are willing to take all-out strike action if their battle for pay parity is not met in upcoming talks.
The delegates at the annual meeting of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO)voted overwhelmingly in favour of an emergency motion seeking a separate pay deal at the upcoming public service pay talks.
The nurses rose to their feet and applauded as general secretary Liam Doran urged them to be prepared for a national dispute if their bid for pay parity with other graduate entry health professional grades is not granted.
'If the call comes we will do whatever is needed,' he declared.
INMO president Martina Harkin-Kelly said 'pay restoration and pay parity' are the two main issues facing members.
'Without these we won't be able to staff hospitals. Research indicates that there will a shortage of two million nurses worldwide by 2020.'
She said that the country is in a 'dire crisis' when it comes to nurses and midwives. She said that the Government 'doesn't seem to be taking the issue of staff seriously. We have listened to the rhetoric and the platitudes but nothing is being done. We are exporting our graduates.'
She said that nurses and midwives must be paid on a par with other professional degrees. 'These nurses are walking out with a four year degree under their belt. Nursing is a borderless profession and we are sick to the teeth of not getting pay parity.
'It's not enough for the Government to tell us that we are doing a wonderful job. If you don't pay properly you won't keep employees.'
Ms Harkin-Kelly said 'the culture in Ireland where nurses are not respected must change. We have 3,500 less nurses and midwives than we did ten years ago. We need to be valued and respected.'
General secretary of the INMO Liam Doran said that the issues surrounding pay and staffing were exemplified in the latest trolley figures which, he said, show a record level of overcrowding.
'The April figures are a bit better and are down 12 per cent but the health service is undersized for the demands placed upon it.'
Mr Doran said that there are not enough community and primary care facilities in Ireland adding that the INMO had reached an agreement with the HSE and the Government to increase nursing and midwifery numbers by 1,200 but said that no action had been taken on this agreement.
'I believe that the Minister (for Health) is committed to the agreement but I remain unconvinced that the HSE are committed to it.
'They (the HSE) are closing beds in Dungavan and Cashel because of staff shortages and graduates in Cork are being flown over to England for interviews there with the NHS and are being guaranteed permanent posts there at the end of the year.
'In Ireland these graduates are being told the HSE will come back to them by the end of the year.
'The HSE needs to step up to the post. The ball is in the Government's court. They have to move from rhetoric to action to address the issue.
'The NHS employs 625,000 nurses but Britain doesn't grow its own nurses, we do. Our people because they are not paid, valued or respected here are being lured away. We will never accept that staff nurses, after a four year degree, are worth 10-15 per cent less than other comparable grades.
'Unless we are paid more we won't have a health service. Without dealing with the pay parity issue we can't deal with the overcrowding issue. 98 per cent of fourth year graduates want to stay in Ireland but the pay and career prospects have got to be right.
'We are not going to wait another three years for a pay deal. We are not viewing ourselves as better than anyone else but we won't accept being anything less. We know this (pay parity) can't happen overnight but it has to start. Pay restoration won't solve the problem.'
Vice president of the INMO Mags Frahill said that 40 care of the elderly beds have been closed in Dungarvan because of a shortage of 18 nurses. She said that the nurses being recruited by King's College in London are being offered £28,000 a year, a £1,000 cash gift, six weeks free accommodation and a permanent post as well as a free flight to London. 'This is what we are up against', she said.
'We (Ireland) are missing the boat. We have a shortage of nursing posts but we are not offering our nurses posts. Last year we had a campaign to bring nurses back home but now our newly qualified nurses are leaving the country because they aren't being given jobs.
'We are in a crisis. We have to value our nurses and we have to start paying them.'