PATIENTS are being used as pawns by the government who are trying to turn the public against nurses and midwives on strike, it has been claimed.
Around 50,000 procedures and appointments were impacted today as almost 40,000 nurses and midwives across the country, including hundreds in Cork, entered into their second day of strike action.
Striking outside Cork University Hospital in wet and windy conditions, nurses and midwives warned of further action unless the government steps in.
Another strike is scheduled to take place tomorrow and next week.
“The government are using patients as pawns while our nurses and midwives want to be inside hospitals looking after them,” said Liam Conway, INMO industrial relations officer for Cork.
“However, we can’t look after them safely because we don’t have enough staff.
“If we don’t do something now for our nurses and midwives, we’re going to be talking about these issues for the next decade,” he added.
“We’ve seen the overcrowding and trolley situation get worse.
“Nurses and midwives were out in the snow last week and in the rain today. They’re not doing this lightly.
“The government need to start listening to them and the patients that are being affected.
“So far, the government are refusing to engage and it’s their fault this has impacted patients.”
Routine community nursing services and health centre nurse clinics were cancelled today while public day centres and day hospitals for older people or people with disabilities were closed.
People in the region were once again urged to only attend for emergency services if absolutely essential.
Nurses at Cork University Hospital (CUH) told the Evening Echo that patients are in danger on a daily basis due to the lack of staff and overcrowding conditions at the hospital.
Richard Butler, a staff nurse in intervention and radiology, has been working at CUH for almost 20 years. He said conditions in the hospital on a daily basis are similar to dealing with a major incident.
“Every day is like a major incident day, you can see it in the corridors. There’s no way that a developed country like Ireland should have that many people on trolleys and in corridors, seven days a week, 24/7.
“People are at risk every day in there because there aren’t enough nurses,” he added.
“We can’t keep the nurses we’re training and we can’t attract people home from abroad.”
Gerard White has worked in the Emergency Department at CUH for 20 years.
“In the ED today, there are large numbers of people waiting for beds again, there are people on trolleys and in corridors,” he revealed.
“We are providing staffing for the ED as part of the strike, we’re providing safe levels of cover. But every single day that we go into work, people are at risk and staffing is an ongoing issue,” he added.
“We’ve been forced to this strike action, our concerns have fallen on deaf ears so far and this was our last resort.”
Nurses and midwives in CUH and CUMH are often forced to care for more patients than is recommended.
“It has become increasingly difficult to retain staff in recent years,” explained Mr White.
“We have very junior staff in emergency departments and we’re also reliant on agency staff.
“We don’t have an issue with hospital management, they’re trying their best to staff the wards but they’re reliant on agency staff,” he added.
“They’re could be a newly qualified nurse working with just one colleague, caring for an entire ward of around 30 patients.
“We’re very, very thin on the ground. Working in these conditions, people understandably get tired, sick and burnt out.
“People are under constant pressure to come into work even when they are sick.”
Mr White called on the government to meet with the INMO and come to a resolution.
“This issue cannot be resolved until the government come to the table and engage in a meaningful discussion not just in theatrics for TV and the media,” he said.
“I think the public realise we’re at a tipping point in terms of our health service.
“The nurses in the health sector are like the canary in the coal mine, if they’re coming out on strike, saying that things are unsafe, the government need to listen to them,” he warned.
More than 1,300 patients were awaiting hospital beds across Cork last month, including almost 1,000 at CUH.
“Patients come in via A&E and they’re hoarded together like cattle,” said Mr Burke.
“There’s infection prevention control issues, people are on trolleys with no dignity, they’re shoved up into a ward or a corridor.
“There are no beds for severely ill patients, those who need to be admitted or the people who can be discharged from intensive care,” he explained.
“That leads to delays all around the hospital.
“We need more beds, more nurses and proper leadership which we’re not getting from Leo Varadkar, Paschal Donohoe or Simon Harris.”
In a joint statement, Health Minister Simon Harris and Paschal Donohoe, Minister for Finance, said they were “willing to engage in talks on the range of workplace-related issues other than pay to try to resolve the dispute”.
They called for immediate engagement with relevant union interests and said they understand that the Workplace Relations Commission remain available to facilitate this.
The INMO, however, described this as spin, claiming the government are yet to enter any meaningful talks.
“The government are putting out more spin as they have been doing since the start of the action, claiming they’re willing to engage,” said Liam Conway.
“We’ve received no formal invitation from the WRC or the labour court. The key issue in the recruitment and retention crisis is pay,” he added. At this stage, we’ve received no formal invitation from the government despite the press releases from the Health and Finance Ministers.
“Our message is quite clear: We’re willing to engage but they have to come to the table with real engagement and proposals to address these issues. Otherwise we will be out here again,” he warned.
“We’re not going back inside until the government actually engage with us.
“Communicating through the airwaves, disregarding our nurses and midwives, disregarding patients here in Cork and across Ireland, is not good enough.”
Mr Burke revealed he will leave the public sector unless things change.
“We’re the lowest paid among allied health professionals who, together with ourselves, keep the sector afloat when the system is in dire straits,” he explained.
“We do so much without saying anything but it has gotten to the stage now where we had to say something because patient safety is compromised. We can’t stand idly by and allow these conditions,” he added.
“We’re losing very experienced nurses to the private sector, other countries and different parts of the health sector. I’ve 20 years experience now but if nothing changes, I’m out, because I can’t stand the conditions in there and the risks posed to patients on a daily basis.”
A midwife at CUMH, Naomi O’Donovan, accused the government of ignoring staff on the ground and patients across Ireland.
“We’re out in the cold literally and figuratively but it’s only proving to unite us even more and make us more determined,” she said.
“The government need to come to the table and listen to what we and our patients, the people of Ireland, are saying. It’s almost easier being out here at the gate in these conditions, than inside the hospital in those,” she admitted.
“You’re working long hours, short-staffed with little or no break.”
Ms O’Donovan warned that nurses and midwives across Cork and Ireland are preparing to escalate the strike action even further unless the government engage in meaningful talks.
“If the government think we won’t go beyond next week, they’re wrong,” she said.
“We’ve already given dates for the following week and we’re hosting a massive rally in Dublin on Saturday with buses expected to go up from Cork. We’re quite willing to come out on strike, we’ve had enough,” added fellow CUMH midwife, Susan O’Driscoll.
“We cannot continue in these conditions.
“Enough is enough,” she added.