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A&E nurses to strike in 'overcrowding' dispute

Published 24/11/2015

The industrial action will take place from Tuesday December 15
The industrial action will take place from Tuesday December 15

Nurses in accident and emergency units in the country's hospitals are going on strike over the decade-old overcrowding crisis.

The Irish Nurses' and Midwives' Organisation (INMO) said there was overwhelmingly support - 92% - for work stoppages in 25 A&E departments and that its members were walking out as a last resort.

The industrial action will take place from Tuesday December 15 over two to three hours and will roll across hospitals.

The INMO vowed to continue the strike action into the new year with other work stoppages being planned.

Liam Doran, the union's general secretary, said: "This action, which will involve strike action, is being taken, in recognition that overcrowding will continue requiring special, sustained, measures to be introduced, in our emergency departments, to safeguard patient care and the health and wellbeing of staff.

"This campaign is also necessary as a direct result of the failure, of government and health service management, over many years, to recognise this overcrowding crisis and to allocate the necessary resources to properly address it.

"Our members will no longer tolerate having to go to work, every day, and face constant overcrowding where both the care of patients, and the health and wellbeing of staff, is compromised without anyone, in authority, seeming to recognise the consequences.

The INMO said 76% of nurses in A&E units voted in the ballot.

The exact location and timing of the strike action has yet to be announced.

The INMO said a standby emergency response team would remain on duty in A&Es and while it said the stoppages would force hospitals to go off emergency calls, it also offered to open talks with health managers to make contingency plans.

The overcrowding crisis in hospitals was declared a national emergency as far back as 2006 when the number waiting for beds in wards was around 300 for the first time.

The INMO's most up-to-date daily survey showed 339 people on trolleys.

The busiest emergency department to be treated in today would be St Vincent's University Hospital in Dublin, closely followed by Beaumont, and Cork University Hospital.

The union's records also warned that last month almost 8,000 patients, who had been admitted to hospital, had to wait on a trolley in an emergency room, corridors or in overcrowded wards for a bed on a ward.

The INMO accused the health chiefs and government of a " daily acceptance" of overcrowding.

It is estimated between 200-300 nurses are needed to provide the necessary care to the number of patients using Irish hospitals.

The strikes will be the first time nurses have walked out since students protested in 2011 over pay and six years on from when nurses and midwives joined a nationwide protest over public sector cuts.

The INMO issued a series of demands on the back of the strike ballot result.

They called for A&Es to have safe, adequate and consistently available staffing levels; additional, separate nursing staff to look after admitted patients who are on trolleys; and for regular health and safety inspections of emergency units.

Mr Doran added: " Members have had enough, we know patients have had enough, and it is now up to government, and management, to address these issues, in dialogue with us, if this campaign of strike action is to be avoided."

The Health Service Executive (HSE) said it wanted industrial relations chiefs to intervene.

"The HSE will be seeking the intervention of the Workplace Relations Commission as soon as possible to avoid industrial action taking place," it said.

"It is important to note that as compared with November 2014 there is now an improving trend in the number of patients on trolleys in EDs and it is important that this progress is not set back."

The strike threat follows a series of prolonged trolley waits, including some elderly patients, being exposed by whistle-blowers.

One involved a 91-year-old man who waited on a trolley in a corridor under bright lights in Tallaght Hospital for 29 hours.

Dr James Gray, the consultant who broke the story, subsequently became the subject of an investigation by health chiefs over potential breach of patient confidentiality.

He publicly backed the nurses strike.

Another incident in the summer involved an elderly man who has cancer being kept on a trolley in the emergency department of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, for five days.

Billy Kelleher, Fianna Fail health spokesman, said nurses do not believe the Government's health agenda.

"But how could they? We have had almost five years of false budgets, unrealistic targets and regressive cuts to front line services," he said.

"The answer to the health service crisis at the moment is more beds and more staff."

Mr Kelleher added: " It is hard to blame nurses for taking this course of action. They have endured intolerable conditions for the last four years and this should send a strong message to government about just how exasperated our front line health workers have become."

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said: "While the situation is very worrying for patients and their families this is a completely understandable response from front line health workers.

"Nurses are performing heroics on a daily basis under increasing pressure as the government continually fails to deal with the overcrowding crisis.

"This is a result of the continued underfunding of our health services by this government who prefer to give tax breaks to high earners than to invest in our public services."

Health Minister Leo Varadkar said the strike threat was disappointing.

He said the actions of the Government's task force on the emergency department overcrowding was taking effect, with 197 hospital beds opened since October with another 44 due to open in the next two weeks.

Mr Varadkar said 759 more nurses are working in the health service than at this time last year.

"While there is a long way to go, there are 20% fewer people on trolleys than on this day last year," he said.

"Industrial action won't get a single patient off a trolley and we should all be focused on implementing the task force plan. Negotiations between the INMO and the HSE as employer will now take place under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission."

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