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Thursday 20 June 2019

Three-day walkout Looming as nurse talks deadlocked

Nurses during the rally at Merrion Square
Nurses during the rally at Merrion Square

A planned three-day walk-out by nurses from tomorrow threatens to cripple hospital services, as exploratory talks to try to avert the action remained deadlocked last night.

More than 40,000 striking nurses will leave hospitals, psychiatric units and community health services reduced to emergency cover only from 8am tomorrow.

It comes after marathon exploratory talks involving the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) over pay remained deadlocked at the Labour Relations Commission.

Risk

The HSE has warned of a serious risk to patient safety if the prolonged and unprecedented level of strike action goes ahead, leaving hospitals and community services struggling to prevent major adverse incidents.

It will hit 40,000 acute hospital patients, 2,000 psychiatric patients and up to 20,000 more people in the community, including the elderly and the disabled, whose day services will be shut.

Most surgery will be cancelled, including some cancer operations, and all outpatient clinics will be shut down for the three days.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said it would be talking to strike committees at mental health facilities "to ensure patient safety".

Already a backlog of 40,000 patients whose hospital appointments were cancelled during the previous three days' strike has built up, and it will be weeks before they are seen or operated on.

A major gulf remained between the nurses' pay demands - priced by the Government at €300m - and the Department of Health and Department of Public Expenditure amid fears any deal will lead to knock-on claims from other unions.

Department of Public Expenditure secretary general Robert Watt was called to the talks yesterday in the hope of securing a breakthrough.

INMO general secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha said her union would remain in the talks until there was some credible offer it could put to its members.

The Labour Relations Commission was trying to decide whether it had any chance of resolving the dispute by making a formal intervention.

Discussions were still at an exploratory stage. However, if there is progress, the commission might ask the union to suspend the strikes.

It is understood that there has been discussion around setting up a review of nurses' terms and conditions, but the unions' demand for an upfront pay rise was a major stumbling block.

Claims

Officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform expressed grave concern about the impact of knock-on claims by other public servants.

The HSE said it was monitoring the Labour Court and patients would be contacted if there was any suspension of the strike action.

The nurses' campaign drew thousands to the streets of Dublin on Saturday at a march organised by the INMO.

The INMO is arguing that the agreement would allow a pay boost without triggering cross-sectoral claims, but this is only on the basis the Government accepts there is a recruitment and retention crisis.

However, the public service pay commission found there was no crisis generally among nurses - but it did say there were retention issues among specialised grades.

The Government has already offered the nursing unions a €20m deal on this basis. Any deal from these talks is likely to include the €20m deal that would mean hikes in some allowances and the shortening of some pay scales.

Meanwhile the Psychiatric Nurses Association is to stage another three days of strikes.

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