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Industrial Dispute

'A major national emergency': Government called to resolve nurses' strike as 50,000 patients affected this week

Nurses across the country will be out on the picket lines outside hospitals and clinics today for the second day of strike action.

ADVOCATES FOR PATIENTS and people with intellectual disabilities have expressed concern about today’s nurses’ strike, the ongoing industrial action and the effect it is having on patients in need. 

Nurses across the country will be out on the picket lines outside hospitals and clinics today for the second day of strike action.

A further day is planned on Thursday, as well as three days next week (12, 13 and 14 February). Strikes were also announced over the weekend for 19 and 21 February.

Today will see a ramping up of the industrial action, with the Irish Nurses Midwives Organisation (INMO) confirming that additional services were being brought into the strike. 

Speaking yesterday, Angela Fitzgerald – national director of acute operations with the HSE – confirmed that in total 50,000 patients will be affected over the two days of action this week.

This includes the cancellation of 13,000 out-patient appointments and 2,000 in-patient surgeries per day, as well as routine community nursing operations being cancelled.  

Last week, the number of services affected by the action was 82. Today the number will be 240. The INMO said that this was due mainly to respite services in intellectual disability and care of the elderly being included in the action. 

Spokespeople for advocacy groups for people with intellectual disabilities and for patients in general expressed concern at the ongoing strike action and called on the government to work to resolve the issues as soon as possible. 

Sarah Lennon – interim CEO of Inclusion Ireland – said that up until now contingency measures had been in place for people with intellectual disabilities and other groups and that she hoped these measures would continue. 

 ”We would be urging both the government and the unions to continue with these contingency measures,” she said. 

She said that people could be waiting for appointments and to access services for a long time and that where possible Inclusion Ireland was asking to keep contingency measures in place for this group.

“For a lot of people with an intellectual disability this can be their possibility to leave their home for the day,” she said. 

It can have a big impact on people’s days.

As of yet, residential services for people with intellectual disabilities haven’t been affected by the industrial action, but Lennon said that if this was to change it would be a “very serious issue”.

“We’re fully in favour and support people’s democratic right to industrial action,” she said, but added that both parties needed to come up with a solution.

“The Department of Health in particular needs to come up with a solution this,”she said. 


Stephen McMahon – co-founder of the Irish Patients’ Association – said that a huge number of people were being affected by the strike and called for a resolution to the dispute. 

He said one woman had contacted him today after her operation had been cancelled. The woman’s husband had taken a week off work to take care of her after the operation but now it wasn’t needed.

“And now she’s very stressed out on when she’s going to have her operation,” he said. 

McMahon said a resolution was needed as a matter of urgency.

“Basically what we’d like to see is that the government enable their negotiators to go back into talks with more resources to find a win, win,” he said.  

A win for nurses and a win for the taxpayer.   

McMahon labelled the industrial dispute a “major national emergency” saying that it required “very special attention”.

“The numbers are so big that the reality of impact on [patients'] quality of life all comes into play,” he said. 

The patient’s voice is the one voice that’s been absent in all of this. In the end we don’t want patients used as pawns by any party in an industrial dispute.  

McMahon said that it was “heartbreaking” that patients were being forced to live in “pain and discomfort” when the dispute will be resolved at some stage. He said patients in public hospitals were suffering most of all.

“There’s something terribly unfair about this and it really illustrates the inequity of our healthcare,” he said. 

McMahon said that government needed to take the issue more seriously and “empower their negotiators to get out there and reach a resolution”.

If this was a storm coming in off the Atlantic the National Emergency Council would be formed… We have the mother of all storms in industrial relations and nothing is being done about it.

Government response

The Psychiatric Nurses Association are also holding a daytime overtime ban today. The action will apply to adult mental health services. Full 24-hour bans including overnight rosters are also scheduled for tomorrow and Thursday. 

The nurses’ disputes centre on pay, conditions and staffing levels. Nurses have said there is a recruitment and retention issue within the healthcare sector. 

An opinion poll of more than 1,000 adults carried out by Ámarach Research for Claire Byrne Live found that almost eight in 10 people (78%) support nurses’ continuation of strike action. The poll, carried out yesterday, shows a 4% increase in support for the strike action, compared to another survey carried out last week. 

In a joint statement released yesterday, Health Minister Simon Harris and Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said they “note with disappointment that further strike action by the INMO is going ahead [today] and Thursday”.

“The government has always listened to the concerns expressed by nurses in relation to working conditions and job satisfaction as well as the patient experience,” the statement noted.

It said that the ministers “continue to be willing to engage in talks on the range of workplace related issues other than pay to try to resolve the dispute”.

Speaking about the strike last month, Donohoe said increasing nurses’ salaries could lead to other public service workers seeking pay rises.

He acknowledged “the immense contribution that our nurses make in our hospitals and primary care centres every day” but added:

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.

With reporting from Órla Ryan 

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