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Nurses and midwives are striking this month. Here's how much they get paid

The 24-hour strike on 30 January was announced earlier this week.

Members of the INMO at a press conference announcing industrial action during the week
Members of the INMO at a press conference announcing industrial action during the week
Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

NURSES AND MIDWIVES in Ireland announced earlier this week that they will hold a strike on Wednesday 30 January, with the union representing them citing that wages in the industry 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,” the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said when announcing the strike.

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,” she said. “We are not able give patients the care they deserve under these conditions.”

It has been widely reported that nurses are seeking a 12% increase in pay.

But just how much are nurses paid? 

What the government says

Although the INMO has said that HSE nurses aren’t paid a competitive wage, the government has said the strike isn’t warranted and could be avoided.

According to a spending review commissioned by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform last year, 83% of nurses and midwives earn over €40,000 in their basic salary.

It said that nurses’ pay has increased in recent years under the Lansdowne Road Agreement, with further increases set to occur in 2020.

The first point of the staff nurse and staff midwife scale of €28,768, combined with a nine-month incremental credit given to new entrants gives them an “effective annual salary of €30,178″ in their first year in the job, the review said.

The first eight points on the staff nurse pay scale are below €40,000, according to the latest figures from the HSE.

staff nurse hse Source: HSE

But the review from the department said that when nurses specialise in their role, or earn a promotion, their pay goes up while nurses receive extra in premium payments over the course of the year.

image (28) Source: Department of Public Expenditure and Reform

The review also notes HSE estimates which say nurses and midwives earn an additional 20% of their basic salary in allowances and premium payments a year, meaning the gross pay for a new entrant nurse would amount to €36,214.

“This compares favourably with other areas of graduate recruitment to the public service (where starting salaries are in the region of €30,000) and wage rates in the wider economy,” the review said.

With incremental salary progression in place, the analysis done on behalf of the department suggests an estimated 13,613 staff nurses and midwives are on basic pay in excess of €40,000.

salary estimates hse Source: Department of Public Expenditure and Reform

By their calculations then, including the 20% premium, that the “average” staff nurse or midwife earns a total salary of €54,745 a year, including basic salary plus premium pay and allowances.

The review also notes that Irish nurses earn an average of 20% more than their UK counterparts on NHS England.

What the union says

The departmental report does acknowledge the INMO’s claim that there are over 1,600 fewer nurses and midwives employed since 2007 to just over 37,000. However, it says extra productivity has made up for this shortfall.

Furthermore, the INMO disputes that the 20% allowance referenced in this report is made available to the majority of nurses. 

On the apparent 12% increase they are seeking, INMO spokesperson Michael Pidgeon said that amount has never been a figure they’ve put out.

“We haven’t looked for a specific figure, we haven’t made a pay demand, we’re just kind of looking for negotiations,” he told TheJournal.ie.

We surveyed our fourth year students who were planning to leave the country and I think about 70% of them pointed to pay as being the main reason why they are leaving.

Referencing the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s review, Pidgeon said that on the matter of the 20% allowances, there are two main ones that nurses get.

“One is a location allowance depending on the service you work in, and the other is a qualification allowance if you have, for example, a masters degree,” he said. “You can only get one or the other.”

The INMO estimates that about 11,000 nurses in total get either of these allowances, just over a quarter of the total number employed by the HSE. 

Pidgeon said: “So basically the point is the allowances, if they were to be increased which is what the government offered, wouldn’t affect the majority of nurses.”

This proposal of a pay rise from government referenced by Pidgeon would have translated to a €400-500 increase for nurses only in receipt of these allowances. Rather than that, the INMO is seeking increases across the board.

“The view we’d take on that is that pay isn’t the cause of this dispute, but it is the solution,” he said.

Margaret Frahill is a senior nurse manager at Mercy University Hospital in Cork. She told TheJournal.ie that strike action could force the government’s hand in tackling the flow of nurses leaving Ireland.

“I’m working alongside young nurses just out of college who are not just leaving the country,” she said. “They’re leaving the profession.”

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.”

Retention of nurses and midwives has been widely described as a major problem. When the Psychiatric Nurses Association said it would be joining the INMO in industrial action, it said problems within recruitment and retention are “escalating on a monthly basis”. 

Its general secretary Peter Hughes said: “The recruitment and retention of nurses within the Irish healthcare system needs to be addressed with realistic proposals from government as a matter of extreme urgency.”

Labour’s Alan Kelly, meanwhile, accused the government of ignoring the plight of new entrant nurses “time and time again”. 

Nurses and midwives are set to strike for 24 hours on Wednesday 30 January, unless there are developments to avert it in the coming weeks.

With reporting from Rónán Duffy, Cónal Thomas

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Sean Murray

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