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'Now I can see that there will be nobody nursing me unless we start paying a salary for the job we do'

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation have announced a 24-hour strike for 30 January.

Image: Shutterstock

NURSE MARGARET FRAHILL did not take yesterday’s decision to strike on 30 January lightly. 

A Senior Nurse Manager at Mercy University Hospital in Cork, Frahill has worked in Irish hospitals for 40 years.

“Now I can see that there will be nobody nursing me unless we start paying a salary relating to the job we do,” Frahill told TheJournal.ie yesterday, following an announcement by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation’s (INMO) that its members will strike later this month. 

The union’s members will withdraw their labour for a 24-hour period over low wages and retention issues. 

With further days of action planned in February if their issues are not addressed, the decision to strike follows a vote in December where 95% of INMO nurses and midwives balloted in favour of industrial action. 

Frahill believes that the situation on Irish hospital wards “cannot get any worse. What we’re seeing at the moment on the wards is horrendous. It’s unsafe now.”

‘A safe environment’ 

Strike action could force the government’s hand to tackle the flow of nurses leaving Ireland, too, Frahill says. ”I’m working alongside young nurses just out of college who are not just leaving the country. They’re leaving the profession.”

Reacting to yesterday’s announcement, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said that he does not believe that industrial action is “warranted and could be avoided.” 

The Minister said he believes there is “a clear need for engagement and it is essential that the time is used by all sides to find a resolution to this dispute.”

“In that context, health sector management will invite the INMO to meet with them next week.”

The INMO has said that only lifesaving care and emergency response would be provided during the industrial action. 

7160 Nurses_90562034 (1) INMO General Secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha speaking to the media yesterday. Source: Leah Farrell

Nurse Marie O’Brien works at the Acute Medical Setting at Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Ennis, Co. Clare. 

Safety is a “major issue” at present due to staff shortages in hospitals, she says. “We need to have pay restored and ensure that we have safety for our patients.”

Everything for us as nurses hinges around a safe environment and safety for our patients.

“We see our young students come to us from University of Limerick. When they discuss their plans going forward they tell us “We’re just going to finish and then we’re going abroad”.”

“We ask them why. They tell us the conditions, the pay, the hours…they’re treated much better.”

“Pay us now”

The INMO has said that wages in nursing and midwifery are too low to recruit and retain enough staff for a safe health service.

“The number of staff nurses fell by 1,754 (6%) between 2008 and 2018, despite an ageing, growing population making the health service busier,” yesterday’s statement from the INMO said. 

Student nurses and midwives earn €14,243 a year under the current public sector pay deal; staff nurses earn €29,056 per annum in the first three months, and €31,110 per annum in the latter nine months of their first year. A senior staff nurse earns €47,898 a year.

The last pay agreement contained wage increases of 6.4% to 7.2% over 2018-2020.

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said going on strike is the “last thing a nurse or midwife wants to do”. 

“But the crisis in recruitment and retention has made it impossible for us to do our jobs properly. We are not able give patients the care they deserve under these conditions.”

This month’s strike action was not an easy decision for O’Brien. “All our nurses on the ground feel that their working situation is unsustainable. It’s unsafe.”

Nurse Frahill says the government has a clear choice to make: “Pay us now and reap the rewards of the future of nursing in this country.”

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