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'We aren't nurses anymore: we are slaves' - Irish nurses explain why they've had enough

A post from a student nurse has gone viral for how it portrays the many difficulties of working in the Irish health sector.

Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

IRISH NURSES, MIDWIVES and other frontline staff have been posting their experiences of the healthcare system anonymously in a Facebook group in an effort to express their frustration.

One nurse, whose story was posted a couple of days ago, said “All my life I wanted to be a nurse. I love looking after people but I can’t do that as a nurse in Ireland. I didn’t realise that my dream would lead me to being a fucking slave.”

In another post that went viral and appeared in international media:

We are so unbelievably undervalued and we find it difficult to strike in numbers because people may actually die if we do strike as we are so short of staff. Who the hell is going to look after the dying patients if we strike?

Last week, the President of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) Dr Tom Ryan, said that the public had become immune to the ‘acute crisis’ in the healthcare system: the thousands of extra hospital beds needed; the waiting lists of over a year and a serious shortage of nurses and doctors.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) announced yesterday that it would hold a nationwide ballot seeking a mandate to commence industrial action.

It said that greater attempts needed to be made to recruit more nurses and midwives, to restore pay and pensions, and to improve working conditions so that midwives do not feel the need to work extra unpaid hours.

INMO President Martina Harkin-Kelly said:

“The health and safety of our members is being compromised on a daily basis, as a direct result of work related factors which are being ignored by health employers. We will not accept this any longer.”

Nurses’ accounts

shutterstock_332263271 Source: Shutterstock/Kzenon

Some of the comments that have been left in the nurses and midwives Facebook group shed a light on how exactly members have been ‘compromised’.

The following post, which went viral and reached foreign media outlets, gives an account of one day for a nurse who has just started her job.

When I got into work I received a phone call from the only other nurse due in that day to tell me she was sick with a fever. I had only been placed in the day hospital 3 days previous and was told that day I would be left with full responsibility of approximately 20+ patients suffering from various mental health issues.
Some are acutely ill. I had very minimal knowledge of how to manage the place, in fact nearly no knowledge and I feel that amount of responsibility should not be left with a student who has never been in a day hospital.
I never got to breakfast, have a proper lunch or wee as much as I needed to. I managed to stuff a few crackers (they’re all I can ever afford) in my mouth between phone calls which consisted mainly of trying to support people who wanted to self-harm, people who were in distress, people who needed adequate support and care from more than one student nurse who couldn’t cope with running a day hospital on her own sick, tired, hungry and needing the loo. I felt faint at one stage.
Words cannot express how miserable I was today and have been on so many occasions in the past.

shutterstock_378636430 Source: Shutterstock/Blur Day Blur Night

Another explained the pains of a “broken-hearted, worn out newly-qualified midwife”, who is paid almost €3 less than the minimum wage in their first year:

I am currently sitting barely able to breathe through the sobs after the shift I have just had. I can’t help but cry at the awful awful conditions I am in, so bad that just Thursday I sat here after work doing the same thing.
I just finished 4 years of gruelling college work, costing both myself and my parents a fortune and still paying off the debt. I worked as an intern midwife for a year on €6.49 an hour, all for what to walk away just a year after qualifying? It’s utterly soul-destroying.
Midwifery was my passion and now I begin to despite it more and more everyday – and I’m only 22 with one year qualified experience. How will I feel in years from now? I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. Just today I was assaulted by a lady because the doctor could not come to see her because the hospital is so busy.
My mother working part time in retail is on the same annual wage as me. On top of that I must work an extra 13-hour shifts every month for free. I just can’t take it anymore, I’m at the end of my tether.

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shutterstock_384285484 Source: Shutterstock/Syda Productions

This post was shared on the page as recently as this Wednesday:

Yesterday there was supposed to be 5 nurses on duty on our 42-bedded ward. There was only 2 nurses. They replaced 3 nurses with a student nurse and a HCA. As brilliant as these guys were, they couldn’t do the dressings, they couldn’t administer meds, they couldn’t check the dozens of IVs or hang them, they couldn’t do any paper work. They couldn’t take blood sugars. They couldn’t answer the hundreds of phone calls or answer relatives queries. They couldn’t do the doctors rounds or attend the meetings with relatives.
Yes they were strangled too and their backs are broken, and but even the vitals they took had to be countersigned by myself and my colleague.
Myself and my colleague didn’t get a break at all. We went 13.5 hrs without going for a pee. Then again we didn’t get time to have a drink. I did steal an apple from the kitchen and ate it on my way home. That was all I ate yesterday.

Earlier this week nurses at a cancer ward in Cork University Hospital began industrial action against what they said were ‘unsafe staffing levels’ at the ward, which was expanded in the past year but without the allocation of extra staff members.

The work to rule – which will see 26 staff members from the oncology and radiology ward withdraw from “clerical and administrative duties in order to focus on patient care” – will continue until the dispute is resolved.

INMO Industrial Relations Officer, Mary Rose Carroll said that the conditions nurses are working in mean that they fear for patient safety.

Although the work is meaningful, the work environment is putting them under a great deal of stress. Nurses go into work fearing what’s ahead of them.

Read: Cancer ward nurses begin long-term protest against ‘unsafe staffing levels’

Read: “They’re not about dying and giving up”: Here’s how the Irish public misunderstands hospices

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