'Spin masquerading as substance' – nurses reject Ministers' proposal to meet for immediate talks

THE nurses’ union has rejected the Government’s proposal to meet for more talks to avoid strike action, calling it “spin masquerading as substance.”

Earlier this evening the Ministers for Health and Finance said they are seeking immediate talks to end a row with nurses who are going on strike for a second time tomorrow.

In a joint statement, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Health Simon Harris said they continue to be willing to engage in talks at the Workplace Relations Commission.

However, they will only discuss workplace issues other than pay.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has declined the offer as they say they haven’t received any proposals or offers to avert their strike action.

INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said in a statement: “This is spin masquerading as substance. Government by press release is unfair and confusing to patients and insulting to nurses and midwives on the picket lines.

“Recycling broken promises is no way to build good-faith negotiations. The government’s press release refers to non-pay issues which are already agreed since 2017.

“The INMO previously referred the government to the Workplace Relations Commission to try and find a solution to this dispute, but the government failed to engage or make any proposals. Talks at the Labour Court sadly produced similar results.”

Ms Ní Sheaghdha also said that the INMO has “identified excessive costs and wastage in the HSE, which could be used to address the pay issues at the heart of the recruitment and retention crisis. But the government simply will not listen.”

Their suggestions on how the public health service could save money if more nurses and midwives could be attracted into the sector are:

  • Over €100m spent in 2018 on agency nurses, used to fill gaps left by vacant posts
  • €10,000 – €20,000 spent per nurse or midwife recruited by overseas agencies
  • educed durations of stay for patients associated with safer staffing levels

In their statement earlier this evening, the ministers said they “noted with disappointment” that further strike action is going ahead.

“The ministers call for immediate engagement in the context of the current dispute with relevant union interests,” they said.

They said the Workplace Relations Commission is available to facilitate them.

“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,” they said.

It said that an initiative to examine workplace issues could focus on the contribution and arrangements for the further roll out of a Safe Staffing Framework.

The ministers said this would improve staff and patient outcomes and reduce reliance on agency staffing in our hospitals.

“In addition, this engagement would encompass other relevant organisational issues appropriate to supporting quality and efficiency in the provision of patient service delivery in an integrated way,” they said.

A spokesperson for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said it has not received an invitation from the Workplace Relations Commission yet.

More than 100,000 hospital patients are at risk of having their surgery or outpatient appointment cancelled as nurses escalate their strike action.

The 35,000 nurses have warned they will take to the picket line tomorrow and Thursday and also strike on February 12, 13, 14, 19 and 21.

It will mean 15,000 hospital appointments will have to be dropped each day, causing a huge backlog and leaving patients waiting weeks or months for their care to be re-scheduled.

At least 10,400 people in the community who rely on nursing services will also face a shutdown each strike day.

The INMO will now withdraw labour from day centres for the intellectually disabled as part of an extension of its action.

Run by disability organisations such as the Brothers of Charity around the country, the day centres cater for thousands of people with an intellectual disability.

They also allow families who provide round-the-clock care for loved ones with a disability the chance of vital respite.

Sarah Lennon of Inclusion Ireland, which advocates for people with an intellectual disability, said last night: “Day centres provide an important lifeline and outlet for people with an intellectual disability. I would ask everyone to be aware of their importance.”

The INMO is also planning to extend the strike to more day centres for the elderly which were not included in last week’s action.

Announcing the two additional strike days on February 19 and 21, the INMO executive, which met on Saturday, said it was announcing the escalation and additional dates for the nurses’ and midwives’ strike “in the face of the Government’s refusal to meaningfully engage with the union”.

The INMO will also be organising a national rally next Saturday.

  • Read more: ‘I earn double what I would in Ireland, and it’s tax-free’ – Irish nurses tell us about the reality of working abroad

General secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said: “Everybody – except the Government – recognises that there is a serious understaffing problem in our health services. The public support for the strike on Wednesday showed that the Irish people stand with nurses and midwives.

“Our message is clear. We will not be going away – resolving this dispute requires direct engagement from the Government, recognising the real recruitment and retention problems in Irish nursing and midwifery.

“We simply want to be able to do our jobs, but our health service cannot hire enough nurses and midwives on these uncompetitive wages. As ever, we remain available for talks with the Government for any realistic proposals.”

Psychiatric nurses are set to ramp up industrial action as nurses take to the picket lines for two more 24-hour strikes this week.

Members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association will extend a daytime ban on working overtime overnight from Wednesday and Thursday this week.

During tomorrow’s nurses’ strike they will refuse to work overtime during daytime hours due to a row with the government over their pay.

However, a union spokesperson said they will escalate the industrial action by extending the ban to night shifts on Wednesday and Thursday.

This will coincide with a third 24-hour strike by nurses on Thursday.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar moved yesterday to quell fears the nurses would face financial penalties as a result of the strike, similarly to what happened to members of teachers’ union ASTI when they took industrial action.

“We’re not planning on doing that (implementing pay sanctions).

“The sense that we have in Government is that that would be provocative and might make it harder to resolve this dispute,” Mr Varadkar told RTÉ’s ‘This Week’ programme yesterday.

But he also added: “At a certain point we will have to treat the nurses the same as we treat the secondary teachers.

“It wouldn’t be fair to treat the secondary teachers differently than the nurses but our judgment at the moment is that withdrawing the benefits of the agreement would be provocative, would be an escalation and might make it more difficult at this stage to resolve this.”

He said he regrets the “enormous inconvenience” and “disruption” being caused to patients who are having appointments and operations cancelled.

The Taoiseach said even if the renewed action was called off today it was “too late now to reschedule all of the operations and appointments that are happening [tomorrow]”.

Mr Varadkar said the industrial action is “technically” a breach of the public service stability agreement.

  • Read more: ‘We work so hard to be so poor – we don’t want an increase, just the 12pc that was taken from us’

“I understand that nurses are very aggrieved about their pay and conditions and the conditions that they have to work in sometimes,” he said.

“I know they have enormous public support and I don’t think that public support will diminish over the next couple of weeks.

“So Government wants to resolve this and we can resolve it but it can only be resolved within certain parameters.”

The HSE said “efforts are continuing to try to avert” tomorrow’s action.

“We are continuing to work with the INMO on arrangements for the day to ensure safe service provision, particularly in the area of urgent care and cancer services.”

If a patient’s procedure is going ahead, the hospital will be in contact directly to let them know.

At this stage it is expected that all out-patient, in-patient and day surgery appointments will be cancelled.

Injury units will be closed, routine community nursing services and health centre nurse clinics will be cancelled.

Public day centres and day hospitals for older people or people with disabilities will close.

All planned admissions, including respite and rehabilitation, to public community nursing units and specified centres for people with intellectual disability will be cancelled.

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