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Dublin: 10°C Tuesday 13 April 2021

Medical staff sleep in wards and brave dangerous weather to make it to hospitals

The work doesn’t stop in Ireland’s hospitals just because there is a weather warning in place.

Tweet by @Richard Chambers🎙 Source: Richard Chambers🎙/Twitter

THERE MAY BE a weather warning in place for Ireland but that doesn’t mean that everyone can stay home from work – particularly medical staff who need to be on hand for patients during the bad spell.

But with some roads impassable and others dangerous, it’s no joke for people to make it into work. And in one hospital – Dublin’s Holles St – 17 babies were born between 8am and 5pm yesterday.

Tweet by @Mary Higgins Source: Mary Higgins/Twitter

One nurse working at St James’s Hospital in Dublin told us that she was determined to make it to work, despite not knowing how she’d make it in for 7.30am this morning:

“There is no-one to cover for us and every ward is going to be short-staffed so I feel bad for my colleagues – so I’m going in,” she said. She said that a nearby hotel is full, so some staff may have to stay in a day ward.

“Also the patients wouldn’t be getting the same care if we didn’t go in. I don’t mind going in but if I lived further away, I wouldn’t go in.”

Another staff member at a Dublin children’s hospital said that staff were dedicated to ensuring their patients got the best treatment during Storm Emma.

Staff are going above and beyond to get in – essential staff are even sleeping in work.

A member of staff at a hospital in the south of the country told TheJournal.ie:

“Some of us who live a decent driving distance from work were told to pack an overnight bag if our shift was to end any time after 4pm today.

“Management has reserved a number of rooms at a hotel near the hospital but it’s not yet been clarified whether staff will have to pay for the hotel room or not. All we know is that the rooms have been booked and it’s an option for us to go there if we can’t get in our cars and drive home because the roads are dangerous.

“Obviously if you are going to work today, you’ve had to sort childcare maybe but now you don’t know if it is going to cost you to be at work because you have to pay for the overnight too.

“And if you took the chance to drive home and had an accident, would you be covered by insurance if they said, well, work had given you somewhere to stay?

“People don’t know where they stand.

Obviously we have patients and we understand that but the management are really sticking to the 4pm deadline. There’s no real flexibility around trying to let people go a tiny bit earlier if they are due to finish near that time, or ask more locally-based staff if they can swap. They’re ticking the boxes but there is no real effort to make it easier for workers.

Newstalk’s Richard Chambers met a Mater Hospital employee who was in the middle of a 10km walk to work yesterday morning.

“I was going to take the car – I couldn’t take the car out of the driveway and they are advising people not to drive anyway,” he said.

“It’s just patient care that’s most important – I don’t mind. I have a very sore knee. It’s killing me but I’ll make it OK.”

I’d rather do this now, walk, than take the car out and risk possibly an accident or something like that.

Another man Chambers spoke to works in St James’s Hospital and was making his way from Ongar to the hospital, which included taking the train and walking.

“You don’t have that choice – clients need to be seen and you have to triage the risks out there. Have to get to work and that’s it,” he said.

Tweet by @John Duddy Source: John Duddy/Twitter

Phil Ní Sheaghda of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) told TheJournal.ie: “Some people are just great, they are just fantastic – they are going over and above the call of duty and we commend them.”

She said that some hospitals were prepared for the situation and had anticipated a red status so had hotel rooms booked for staff.

“They had cancelled some elective procedures and then others are catching up from a hospital point of view today; some procedures and some units are open today,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to get hospitals to a point where they’re not putting patients at risk by not telling them that their procedure is not going ahead.”

She said that some services like dialysis and intensive care will continue and that hospitals have made accommodation available to staff in hotels. She said that “in some places where they have units that they can use they’re using those as well, so it’s a mixture of that”.

“Some staff that live close by hospitals, they say they will attend. Staff in rural hospitals, they are fixing that up between themselves,” said Ní Sheaghda. “It’s not unusual – they tend to be proactive.”

The community nursing services have been affected and some community services are reporting finding it extremely difficult to get to patients in isolated areas.  “The civil defence are assisting there,” she said. “Some family members are able to to bring patients to the health centre. It’s a combination of efforts.”

As the weather prepared to get worse Ní Sheaghda said that medical staff “are doing their best, they really are” noting that the INMO is in “constant contact” with people.

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She also noted the importance of making sure that staff can be relieved after a 12-hour shift, so that people who work night shifts can get a break.

“A lot of our staff commute to work, commute long distance, so I suppose we’re just trying to ensure there are going to be enough people available and trying to get the HSE to scale down as much of the service as they can.”

The INMO has been getting some reports from private nursing homes about difficulties getting staff. The organisation is encouraging all private nursing home members to make sure they provide assistance to their staff to travel to and from work safely.


snow 152-2_90538369 A commuter in the snow yesterday. Source: Sam Boal

The question of pay for healthcare staff has been on the agenda during the bad spell, as initially the HSE told its staff that they would have to take annual leave should they be unable to make it into work.

That was then changed to being allowed to take emergency leave and work back the time. But yesterday morning Health Minister Simon Harris said that staff will not have to work back any time.

“It is a pity that in circumstances like this the Minister has to intervene and to apply common sense,” said Ní Sheaghda. She said that the INMO had written to the HSE last October after Storm Ophelia to ask what its approach would be to such an emergency situation in the future.

She said that that the first communication from the HSE to the public on the issue “sent the wrong message to people in fairness who are doing their best to try and get to work in difficult circumstances”.

There isn’t a person in the country who would doubt the bona fides of ambulance service personnel or anyone who works in frontline emergency services. They are motivated to do the right thing in circumstances such as this.

She said that the circular from the HSE “demonstrated they didn’t understand that”.

“Clearly the Minister did and we welcome that this morning it was the right thing to do.”

The situation is changeable but the INMO is hoping that every employer does their best “to make sure people can go to work safely and get home safely”.

“This is a major emergency and should be treated as such.”

Read: Ambulance and fire services working as normal despite red alert>

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