Emergency department nurses prepare to ballot for strike as trolley crisis worsens
A nationwide ballot of nurses working in Emergency Departments (ED) is to take place after the worst October on record for overcrowding levels.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said that the decision to conduct a ballot was taken by its Executive Council.
It will be seeking a mandate for industrial action "up to and including the withdrawal of labour in protest at the persistent, and deepening, levels of overcrowding in Emergency Departments across the country".
Health Minister Leo Varadkar said he was "disappointed" at the decision to ballot.
However, the INMO said that it comes after record levels of overcrowding across the country. It said that last month was the worst October on record, with 7,971 admitted patients cared for on trolleys.
INMO Secretary General Liam Doran said that its members have had enough and it believes that patients have had more than enough, and a campaign of action, including industrial action, is now necessary to secure the necessary measures to alleviate this crisis.
"The latest figures confirm the measures taken to date have not, are not and will not, alleviate the problem - leaving patients and staff continually exposed to totally unacceptable care and working environments.
"This campaign, when mandated by members, will demand the additional staffing and other measures necessary to recognise the current reality, minimise risk to patients and ensure the health and well-being of nursing staff on the frontline," he added.
"Our members have told us safe care must be prioritised, the crisis cannot be ignored by management any longer and that patient care is being compromised because of overcrowding."
This campaign, and any industrial action that is found necessary, will consistently demand safe staffing and a safe working environment, Mr Doran added.
Meanwhile, in a statement, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said he was disappointed that the INMO Executive Council had decided to ballot.
"Industrial action won't get a single patient off a trolley. We have a plan to address ED overcrowding, which is currently being implemented and which is supported by the INMO.
"I ask that all efforts be focused on working together to implement the plan," he said.
Figures from the INMO showed that, in the first 10 months of this year, almost 80,000 admitted patients were on trolleys.
The body's executive council took into account that, for the fifteenth month in a row, October saw an increase in the level of overcrowding in EDs.
It said that 25 out of 29 departments nationwide have experienced an increase in overcrowding so far this year, compared to the same 10-month period in 2014.
Nurses have expressed "growing concern" with regard to the increasing delays in patients being initially assessed. INMO members said that, due to the pressure in the departments, members of the public are not being seen in a timely manner consistent with best practice.
At the beginning of October, Mr Varadkar attended INMO headquarters where he met with nurses at a meeting convened to discuss the deepening overcrowding crisis nationwide.
In September, he told senior health officials in an internal email that a high-level public servant will have to be sacked "for accountability" if the trolley crisis in hospitals is not fixed.