STRIKING nurses at Limerick Regional Hospital are to re-enter talks at the Labour Relations Commission but have warned that their industrial action continues.
After taking their protest to the Dail last Wednesday, the nurses published figures on the number of patients left on trolleys in the emergency department in Dooradoyle which they say demonstrate how “intolerable” working conditions and the risks to patients have become.
Nursing unions have compared the current year with 2009, the year in which the process of centralising emergency and acute care to Dooradoyle from Ennis and Nenagh began.
The INMO and SIPTU maintain that over the year to date, the number on trolleys in casualty has increased by 54 per cent. But they say the increases have gone off the chart since the HSE started applying cutbacks - including bed closures and restrictions on overtime and agency staff - to rein in the Regional’s €15 million deficit from the middle of the year. Compared to 2009, the numbers on trolleys were up 192 per cent in August, 91 per cent in September and 84 per cent in the first seven days of October, the nurses maintained.
“It is also worth noting that this level of overcrowding, in the emergency department, continues despite the fact that management have placed two extra beds on every inpatient ward thus compromising the care of the entire inpatient population,” the unions said.
The HSE has countered that this policy - the full-capacity protocol - is designed so as not to concentrate risk in the emergency department and has the backing of emergency consultants.
Nurses have said that the HSE has refused to entertain a proposal from the unions that nurses should be redeployed from other hospitals in the Mid-West to alleviate pressure at the Dooradoyle A&E.
The HSE wants nurses to agree new rosters as a way of resolving the dispute. Nor has the Executive ruled out redeployment options, as long as it comes from within existing staff in Dooradoyle. The HSE does not have the money to add to the current complement of 700 nurses in the Regional, it has insisted.
Unions have also accused the HSE of refusing to discuss the recommendations of the special delivery unit of the Department of Health, following a visit by this group of officials ordered by the Minister for Health himself.
The INMO’s industrial relations officer in Limerick, Mary Fogarty, has vowed the nurses will fight on.
“This protest is about patient care and the management of risk, nothing more. The nurses...are acting as they are obliged to do, speaking up and speaking out for patients in the interests of ensuring the patients health and well-being. The intolerable working environment, when we have proposals on the table capable of immediately reducing this risk, is inexplicable and the HSE owes it to the general pubic, and their staff, to explain why they will not implement the required measures immediately,” she said.