Comment: Nurses and midwives leave work in tears and fear coming back

Dave Hughes, deputy general secretary of the INMO, explains why nurses and midwives voting on industrial action

Nurses in crisis? Pic:

Following twelve regional consultative meetings, the executive committee of the INMO have decided to recommend a programme of Industrial action to its membership.

They argue that the health service has 3,800 fewer nurses and midwives than were employed in the Public Health Service in 2009 yet the demand for services has grown. Has the adage “more with less" been taken to its extreme in the health service and is it a case now of too few to provide a safe service?

The INMO have been counting trolleys in Emergency Departments for the past twelve years to demonstrate the inability of our hospitals to provide humane timely care to the most ill patients waiting for a bed. Politicians and most members of the public have reassured themselves that once admitted to the system the care was second to none. Having listened to the testimony of those who attended the INMO consultation meetings and read the emails of fatigued nurses and midwives coming off gruelling shifts it’s clear that for many such consolation is misplaced and for others it's wide of the mark.

In a major regional hospital once described as a centre of excellence, a consultant surgeon allegedly amputated two toes off a patient in a ward, so frustrated was he at the constant cancellation of planned surgery due to staff shortages and overcrowding. Another instructed nurses to take four patients to the front door where he picked them up in his private car and transported them to a private facility to operate on them. Nurses were called again to send the pool nurse out to escort those same patients back from that private hospital at the expense of the public hospital in the middle of the night. Two third-year and two second-year unpaid students were left in charge of almost thirty patients for an entire shift with only the oversight of one clinical nurse manager. Midwives recounted how they could not go home at the end of shifts as there was no replacement coming on duty and numerous others recounted their heartbreak at holding the hands of patients or their relatives in their final hours without the dignity or the privacy they deserved. Can it be right that nurses and midwives leave their place of work in tears and fear coming back the next day to face the same or worst in our now dysfunctional health service where the abnormal has become normal for so many in the professions? To add insult to injury, legal advice issued in an attempt to have nurses treat discharged patients as trespassers and use force to eject them from hospitals.

So, to a large degree a Yes vote will be a huge exercise in whistle blowing on an unaccountable health system to which our political masters are content to entrust our health and welfare without any recognisable governance system.

The INMO hopes to prompt the HSE and Government into offering a package comparable to that offered by private hospitals and foreign recruiters which will attract the numbers which all parties accept are necessary to safely staff our services.

For those who place cost over care, just ponder the fact that the HSE now spend€1 million per week or€52 million a year for agency staff to cover a fraction of the now vacant posts. Agency fees and VAT charges mean a cost of 1.5 times that of directly employed staff.

David Hughes is the deputy general secretary of the Irish Nurses' and Midwives' Organisation.