Ireland’s nurses and midwives will vote in the coming weeks on taking all-out strike action, the INMO Executive Council today (Tuesday) announced.
If passed, nurses and midwives would stop work for 24 hours, providing only essential, life-preserving care and emergency response teams for theatres and emergency departments. If unresolved, this could escalate to two 24-hour stoppages the next week.
The vote aims to resolve understaffing in the health service, where low wages have made it impossible for the HSE to recruit and retain enough nurses and midwives to provide safe care.
According to the HSE, for every four nursing vacancies, there is only one application. The health service now pays recruitment agencies a €10,000 bounty for every nurse or midwife they find to hire.
There are 2,600 fewer nurses working in the Irish public health service today than in 2007, with a fall of 227 staff nurses between December 2017 and September 2018 alone.
The INMO has called for an across-the-board pay rise to deal with the problem. Two agencies have already taken this approach, offering nurses and midwives at least 20% more than the HSE rate.
The government’s previous proposals on pay, which would not have affected most nurses and midwives, were rejected by 94% of INMO members in October. Although notified of the rejection on the 17th of October, health employers failed to meet the INMO before today’s Executive Council.
INMO President Martina Harkin-Kelly said:
“We have been forced down this path because the government have failed to deal with chronic understaffing. Nurses and midwives are the lowest paid professionals in the health service, which is why the HSE is finding it impossible to recruit or retain.
“We cannot wait any longer. Patients deserve a properly staffed health service.”
INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said:
“This is about safety. The HSE simply cannot hire enough nurses and midwives on these wages. Patients are suffering the consequences as our wards and services go understaffed.
“Nurses and midwives do not want a strike; they want a solution. The employers have already wasted a fortnight since our last ballot. The next two weeks are a cooling off period for the government to engage with us, make serious proposals and avoid industrial action.
“Clause 3 of the Public Service Stability Agreement was written to deal with recruitment and retention problems. The government and health employers must use it to deal directly with INMO claims. Playing brinksmanship will not suppress the legitimate issues nurses and midwives have raised.”