Last-ditch bid to avoid strike by nurses as ops cancelled
Thousands of waiting list patients will miss out on hospital appointments tomorrow even if 11th hour Labour Court talks succeed in averting a national nurses’ strike.
Last-ditch talks at the Labour Court ended last night and the court said it will decide today whether there are grounds to issue a recommendation that could resolve the dispute.
There are fears for patient safety in high-risk areas such as A&E departments if tomorrow’s 24-hour stoppage goes ahead.
The Labour Court is trying to determine if there is a basis to formally intervene in the dispute.
But even if the strike is suspended and many services continue as normal, it is too late for thousands of patients who were scheduled to attend clinics tomorrow or be admitted for surgery. Hospitals have cancelled planned surgeries as they prepare to scale down to just an emergency service.
New talks began late yesterday after the chairman of the Labour Court, Kevin Foley, invited the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and Government officials to discussions.
Officials from the HSE, Department of Health, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) Patricia King all attended the talks.
Nurses are demanding a 12pc pay rise to put their wages on a par with other healthcare professionals.
Sources said they may explore the option of setting up a body to examine their pay – although this may not report until after the current wage deal ends.
A spokesperson for the INMO said it accepted the invitation to “informal talks” – but on condition that the strike preparations could continue.
“We have consistently said that we are open to talks and that this strike can be averted,” said a spokesperson. “We will attend these talks in good faith. But the ball is firmly in the Government’s court.
“It needs to make serious proposals if it is to avert industrial action.”
Ms King said Ictu was invited to take part in an “exploratory” discussion.
“We’re certainly going to have a full, I would say an open discussion with the chairman to let him know where we’re at,” she said.
Earlier, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe warned that the financial fallout of giving nurses a pay hike would be even higher than that after a proposed strike by gardaí two years ago.
He also warned that the existing collective wage agreement could unravel if the 12pc wage hike was entertained.
“The Government cannot allow the existing collective wage agreement to unravel,” said Mr Donohoe.
He said concessions on pay to nurses would prompt further demands, citing the €50m Garda pay package that was offered to avert an unprecedented strike.
Meanwhile, A&E consultants expressed serious concerns about the impact on patient safety if the strike goes ahead.
Dr Emily O’Conor, in a letter to the HSE, warned that the level of A&E cover by nurses, which was set out in contingency strike plans, was inadequate.
She warned that the A&E doctors were making an “earnest plea” and that “genuine harm could occur”.
Patients coming through A&E could have life or limb-threatening conditions, she cautioned.
The nurses, as part of their plan, refused to include their regular triage of patients which would prioritise those in most urgent need of medical attention.
This task could be carried out by a doctor, but understaffed A&E departments will struggle to free up medics for this duty. It could heighten the risk of some patients slipping through the cracks and not getting attention on time.
The deterioration in the weather and plummeting temperatures also increase the risk to vulnerable patients, particularly those with respiratory illnesses.
The nurses said if there was a serious emergency, they would leave the picket line and return to the hospital.
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