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Donohoe thanks nurses for 'immense contribution' but says paying them more could lead to others seeking rises

Nurses are set to go on strike this month and next in a dispute over pay and conditions.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Dusan Petkovic

PASCHAL DONOHOE HAS said increasing nurses’ salaries could lead to other public service workers seeking pay rises.

Speaking in the Dáil, the Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform acknowledged “the immense contribution that our nurses make in our hospitals and primary care centres every day”.

To which Independents 4 Change TD Joan Collins responded: “Pay them.”

“While I am very much aware of this contribution, I am equally aware of the contribution that many other public servants make to our economy and society,” Donohoe continued yesterday evening.

He stated that giving nurses a pay rise would lead to the “risk of knock-on claims”, adding: “That is not an option for any government.”

His department believes that the estimated €300 million cost of the nurses’ claim would trigger knock-on claims across the public service. Donohoe noted that when gardaí received pay rises totalling €50 million in 2016, an additional €120 million had to be paid to other public servants.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has scheduled six 24-hour strikes by its 37,000 members on 30 January and 5, 7, 12, 13 and 14 February if their issues are not addressed.

Members will continue to provide lifesaving care and emergency response teams during this period, but some operations and clinic appointments will be cancelled.

The dispute centres on pay, conditions and staffing levels. The number of staff nurses working in Ireland fell by 1,754 (6%) between 2008 and 2018, despite an increased demand on the health service. 95% of INMO members have voted in favour of going on strike.

pay inmo Source: INMO

Psychiatric nurses also plan to strike in February, citing similar concerns.

Talks are taking place between the INMO, the Psychiatric Nurses Association, the Department of Health and the HSE to try to avert the strikes. 

‘Ball is in government’s court’ 

INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha has 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.

“The HSE simply cannot recruit enough nurses and midwives on these wages. Until that changes, the health service will continue to go understaffed and patient care will be compromised.

The ball is in the government’s court. This strike can be averted. All it takes is for the government to acknowledge our concerns, engage with us directly, and work to resolve this issue, in a proactive manner.

Speaking yesterday evening, Donohoe noted that many TDs present had referred to the fact there were nurses in the public gallery of the Dáil chamber during the discussion, stating that the same chairs “would quickly be filled with other public servants who would ask why the same money cannot be made available to them”.

“Agreements were made with public servants on the basis of integrity around our wage policy. We have said that a certain amount of money is available in any given year, of between one-quarter and one-third of what we spend each year, and that is set aside for pay.

“In addition to that, we have put in place a plan for €1.1 billion of additional wage changes and increases, all of which are deserved by our public servants. When we made that agreement with them, we as a Government, underscored by elements in this Dáil, said that this is the best that is available to them.”

Donohoe asked TDs what would they say to teachers, civil servants and members of the armed forces if nurses got a pay rise and they didn’t.

Donohoe also ruled out the establishment of a judge-led commission to review the nursing and midwifery professions, a proposal put forward by Fianna Fáil.

‘They work exceptionally hard’ 

Responding to Donohoe in the Dáil, FF TD Eamon Scanlon noted that the INMO ballot was not just about wage increases, but also patient safety.

“The HSE has not been able to recruit and retain sufficient nurses and midwives, meaning that the health service is understaffed. Nurses are working 12-hour shifts which sometimes run into 13 or 14 hours. They rarely get out of work on time and are constantly contacted on their days off to do overtime.

They work exceptionally hard and it is often forgotten that they have families of their own to look after. They care for everyone and they are not rewarded in the way that they should be.

“In Australia, the maximum number of patients in a nurse’s care is six but in Ireland it can be between 15 and 20, which speaks for itself. Morale among nurses is at an all-time low at the moment,” Scanlon said. 

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Órla Ryan

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