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'The system is overloaded': Nurses call for upgraded PPE and fully nationalised private hospital capacity

The INMO has also suggested a partial reopening of schools to take the pressure of healthcare workers with school-aged children.

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THE IRISH NURSES and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has said the healthcare system is overloaded and is calling for “urgent governemnt intervention”.

The union’s executive council met today to discuss the “unprecedented” pressure on frontline members due to the rapid growth in Covid-19 cases.

They are calling for the level of PPE in healthcare settings to be upgraded to FFP2 masks and an end to the policy allowing asymptomatic close contacts to return to work.

This morning HSE Chief Operations Officer Dr Anne O’Connor said requesting close contacts to return to work was a “last resort”, but the healthcare service is now under significant pressure and needs the staff.

“The reality is that the demand now is so high, and the numbers are becoming so high that we need staff at work and given the level of absenteeism that is becoming very difficult across the board,” she said.

The INMO is also calling for private hospital capacity to be fully nationalised into the public system to provide additional beds and staffing to the service in the coming weeks. Current government plans are to use a third of this capacity.

The union said the government needs to intervene to ensure there is childminding provision to allow parents of schoolchildren to attend work while schools are closed. It said this could take the form of a partial school reopening for families of healthcare staff or an expansion of after-school care.

Other measures highlighted by the INMO include a continuation of vaccination priority for healthcare workers and protections and pay for nursing the midwifery students and interns who it said are facing high Covid-19 risks.

INMO president and emergency department nurse, Karen McGowan today said the system “is overloaded and they cannot cope”.

“Decisions at every level are happening too late to prevent infection and overburden. The consequences are increasingly clear – our frontline members are paying the price,” she said.

INMO general secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said this situation should be treated as a national emergency.

“The public health service was not fit for purpose before the pandemic – it is now under a level of pressure not seen before. We are at the point where staff are not able to cope. There are huge numbers of very sick patients, with 7,000 HSE staff now out for Covid reasons. Over 2,500 healthcare workers a week are getting the virus,” she said.

“Our executive council has set out five practical measures the government should intervene with. We need all hands on deck in the health service and frontline staff must be protected.

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“Safety standards need an urgent upgrade. Last year, the INMO had to campaign to get facemasks in healthcare settings. We were told it was not possible or necessary, but eventually they listened. We now know that all staff need to be issued with high-standard FFP2 masks, as has been done in Cork University Hospital.

“It is beyond time to nationalise all private hospital capacity and to provide childminding for healthcare workers with children. Similarly, we cannot ask students to take on more work at the expense of learning, for no or low pay.”

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