Nurses to strike as 20 kids left on trolleys while crisis deepens
Some 40,000 angry nurses yesterday announced they will begin a series of 24-hour work stoppages, starting on January 30, in pursuit of better pay.
They will follow with further 24-hour strikes on February 5 and 7, 12, 13 and 14.
The strike over pay will involve members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).
The strike will see INMO members withdraw their labour for 24 hours, providing only life-saving care and emergency response teams.
The union said the dispute centres on safe staffing in the public health service.
It insisted the HSE has not been able to recruit and retain enough nurses and midwives on current wages.
General secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha said this would be only the second national strike in the INMO's 100-year history.
"Going on strike is the last thing a nurse or midwife wants to do. But the crisis in recruitment and retention has made it impossible for us to do our jobs properly," he said.
"The HSE simply cannot recruit enough nurses and midwives on these wages.
"Until that changes, the health service will continue to go understaffed and patient care will be compromised."
Health Minister Simon Harris said he does not believe that industrial action is warranted and could be avoided.
The HSE is to invite the union to a meeting next week.
Meanwhile, the escalating trolley crisis has forced 20 sick children to wait for a bed so far this week, with some hospitals now suffering crippling levels of overcrowding.
The young patients were forced on to trolleys in emergency departments of the main children's hospitals in Dublin.
Nationally, the shortage of beds for emergency patients got worse for a second day yesterday, leaving 583 patients without a bed across the country - up from 541 on Monday.
There were nine children on trolleys in the emergency departments of Our Lady's Hospital Crumlin and Temple Street yesterday and 11 on Monday.
The worst-hit adult hospital yesterday was Cork University Hospital, where 61 patients were stranded without a bed.
Letterkenny University Hospital was crammed with 43 patients on trolleys and the picture was equally bleak in University Hospital Limerick.
Meanwhile, waiting list patients scheduled for surgery again lost out yesterday as operations were cancelled to make room for the influx of emergency cases. A number of children have been struck by swine flu and had to be isolated.
The highest rate of admissions has been among the under-fives.
However, unlike in the UK, the Department of Health has yet to start a scheme offering the flu vaccine to healthy children, which would protect them and also reduce the risk of spread to vulnerable adults.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) is an independent committee which makes recommendations on vaccination policy in Ireland.
"NIAC is currently considering the need to expand current recommendations for influenza vaccine to include all children."
Relatives of patients waiting on trolleys in Cork described claims overcrowding is easing as a "bad joke".
"Nurses and doctors are absolute saints - I just don't know how anyone could cope with it day after day," said Mike O'Sullivan, who was attending with elderly relatives.
"From what I could see, there were a lot of elderly people on trolleys. I was chatting to one nurse and she said that the worst has yet to come from flu cases.
"We were lucky - my cousin had a bed in a couple of hours. There is little difference to last winter."