Patient safety fears as nurses' strike clashes with freezing weather

Safety fears have heightened for patients who are being told to stay away from hospital A&E departments during the nurses’ strike as the country endures sub-zero temperatures and snow.

A HSE spokeswoman said yesterday in advance of Wednesday’s 24-hour walk-out: “Due to the industrial action, we would advise that patients only attend our emergency services if absolutely essential.”

However, the strike is due to clash with some of the most bitter weather the country has endured this winter – posing a risk to patients with respiratory diseases and people vulnerable to heart attacks.

The strike by more than 35,000 nurses will also hit pregnant women whose outpatient appointments are being cancelled.

If they experience problems with their pregnancy on Wednesday they will have to queue in the A&E of their maternity hospital.

Phil Ní Sheaghdha, head of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), held contingency plan talks with strike committees across the country yesterday.

It comes as more chaos looms today when the executive of the National Ambulance Representative Association meets and is expected to sanction a series of strikes.

It follows last week’s action over the right to union representation which forced Army paramedics to be drafted in.

Members of the INMO, which is seeking a pay rise for staff nurses which employers say would cost €300m, will withdraw their labour on Wednesday except for emergency cover.

The HSE spokeswoman said local injury units will be shut.

Cancer surgery will go ahead but no other planned operations will take place. All outpatient appointments will be cancelled. Medical abortions will be confined to women who may go over the 12-week time limit if they are delayed.

In the community, all day centres for older people or people with disabilities, where nurses are employed, will close as will all routine community nursing services and health centre clinics where nurses participate.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Simon Harris said he is urging both sides of use “the time and mechanisms available to avoid this dispute”.

A wage rise is ruled out but there is speculation a commission to examine nurses’ pay may be brought forward.

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