'avoidable' | 

Pressure mounts on Stephen Donnelly as ‘traumatised’ nurses threaten action

INMO says it is seeking safe staffing levels

Amy Molloy and Senan MolonyIndependent.ie

Pressure is mounting on Health Minister Stephen Donnelly to address frontline workers’ safety concerns as nurses and midwives are to consider industrial action over hospital overcrowding.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said what transpired this week – when 931 patients were waiting on trolleys in one day and people were waiting in emergency departments for up to 57 hours – had been “totally avoidable”.

The union said it was seeking safe staffing levels and would consult members about industrial action over the next month.

It comes as the HSE confirmed more than 10,000 members are currently out of work, representing around 8pc of the workforce, in a week where emergency department attendances hit record heights.

Around 2pc are out with Covid and an estimated 2pc absent with flu. Between 4 and 4.5pc are out for other reasons.

Updated figures provided by the HSE yesterday morning said between 10,000 and 11,000 staff were out of work due to illness and other reasons.

INMO president Karen McGowan said it had become “impossible” to provide safe care to patients in overcrowded settings due to the threat of viruses circulating.

She said nurses and midwives had been left “traumatised” by what they witnessed this week.

Despite trolley figures dropping for the third day in a row to 535 yesterday, health officials are warning that flu cases are expected to rise in the next three weeks, with an increase in hospitalisations likely.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the presence of “senior decision-makers” in hospitals this weekend would help throughput dramatically in the system and result in more people going home.

He denied that the chaos in hospitals could have been predicted, despite the health service always being busy at this time of year.

When asked on Newstalk’s The Hard Shoulder about the INMO threatening action, he said he would like to see the safe staffing framework adopted faster.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly outside the Mater Smithfield Rapid Injury Clinic, The Forge, Smithfield, Dublin yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney /Collins Photos

He insisted that the current situation “could not have been foreseen”, with a triple whammy of occurrences, including flu, RSV and Covid, all contributing.

“What we’re seeing is not happening every year,” he added.

“Why is that? We still have a lot of people in hospitals and Covid and we have staff absenteeism with the virus, because it has a knock-on effect on the number of beds you have available.

“We have a much heavier and earlier flu wave that is being experienced here and right across Europe, in England, Northern Ireland, Austria and elsewhere.”

However, the INMO said it had been warning “for too long” that such levels of overcrowding would occur in January unless serious and meaningful action was taken.

“While many will try to laud the fact that we have seen a decrease of patients on trolleys from 931 to 535, we won’t be part of attempts to justify this as an improvement,” INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said.

“Nurses and midwives expect and deserve to work in a safe practice environment.”


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