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Nurses to vote on potential strike action as HSE and Government roll out new promises

The INMO Executive Council said that a fully funded staffing plan is needed to avoid the “catastrophic impact” of last winter.

NURSES ARE SET to vote on the holding of a national ballot on industrial action shortly, after the HSE announced €25 million in funding for 854 additional nurses in acute hospitals across the country. 

While the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has welcomed the announcement from the Department of Health, the Assistant Director of Industrial Relations Albert Murphy said that it doesn’t go far enough, and that a fully funded safe staffing plan “underpinned by legislation” is desperately needed. 

Murphy also spoke about nurses not having been paid increases agreed between the union and the HSE under the Momentum Agreement. 

Nurses from the retired section, and student nurses also spoke about how the payroll delays are destroying confidence in the health system. 

Ciarán Freeman, an intern nurse and EMT based in Galway, said that six month delays in staff receiving promised pay increases means that younger staff who may go abroad are losing confidence in “change within the HSE”. 

Emergency motion

In an emergency motion, the INMO executive council proposed that, in the absence of “significant progress”on the implementation of a funded workforce plan, members will “commence a ballot of all members for industrial action in mid-September”. 

While it has not been specified that this will mean strike action, it has not been ruled out. 

“The nature and timing of any action is to be determined by the Executive Council,” the motion reads. 

The motion sets out that the union is pursuing the implementation of legislation that will underpin the existing framework for safe nursing – which shapes policy on surgical, medical and emergency wards – and is also asking for that framework to all nursing and midwifery work locations. 

It further notes that the publication of a fully funded workforce plan has not happened since 2017 despite “numerous meetings”. 

Speaking ahead of the debate today, the new CEO of the HSE Bernard Gloster made a series of commitments on workforce planning. 

Gloster told the crowd of nurses and midwives that the HSE is moving away from the traditional winter plan, as the challenge facing the health service is now “continuous”. 

He further stated that he has asked for all senior managers within the HSE to provide a “plan for management of capacity for the rest of the year, not just for winter”. 

“If that plan means we have to redirect and reprioritise how we use what we have, then so be it,” he said. 

Gloster’s remarks received a round of applause in the room, as did his comments on the HSE being “too top heavy” as an organisation. 

Gloster further told the INMO delegates that he has appointed Dr Geraldine Shaw, Acting Nursing and Midwifery Services Director, as a member of the HSE’s expert review body, and as his advisor on nursing and midwifery. 

In response, INMO General Secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha said that the appointment of Dr Shaw showed a level of commitment to tackling the issues that he has “inherited”. 

Ni Sheaghdha said that retention of nurses is now crucial, as the union wants to see those graduating in Ireland working in the country as opposed to countries like Australia and Canada.  

She also said that outstanding payroll issues within the HSE need to be resolved immediately. 

“With any ballot, the first question we are going to be asked by members is, what is the point if we won’t get [the increase] for eight months, resolving outstanding pay issues needs to be a priority,” she said. 

Ni Sheaghdha also said that INMO is attending the WRC in order to see an agreement brokered on the HSE’s obligation to look after staff who contracted long covid over the course of the pandemic. 

In conclusion, she told Gloster: “We welcome you, it will be a new dawn.”

However Ni Sheaghdha added that in order to deliver on patient safety, nurses have to be “given a seat at the table,” when it comes to making key decisions on workforce planning. 

Changes to urgent care planning

Speaking to the press at the conference, Gloster said that there needs to be a focus on “urgent care in Ireland throughout the year”. 

He added that the HSE is now focused on developing an urgent care plan “for the rest of this year, right through the summer and into the winter”, he added that he would like to see the plan finalised and “agreed with the Minister by the end of May.”

“By June of this year we want to finalise with Minister Donnelly a three year plan for unscheduled care, to be very clear that is not going to solve all the issues, or take away all of the difficulties,” he added. 

When asked how the HSE is going to recruit the hundreds of additional nurses it is aiming to have in place by the end of the year, Gloster said that the HSE is going to look at both additional domestic training places and recruitment abroad. 

“We know that an increasing number of nurses are being trained outside of Ireland, we welcome them, we have to look after them as well, but as we want to grow the nursing workforce between now and 2041, the imbalance will be too much in terms of our dependency on nurses coming from abroad, so we do need to add to the 2,000 or so a year that we are training in Ireland,” he said. 

Gloster also said that he would like to see more student nurses being guaranteed a permanent job before they graduate in Ireland. 

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