Tough negotiations but progress made as nurses dig heels in on overcrowding
YOU'VE got to admire the negotiators at the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (IMNO), who proved at the weekend, and indeed over the past number of months, that they are no pushover.
In the latest round of negotiations with the HSE, they spent almost 20 hours fighting the corner of emergency department nurses in 26 hospitals across the country, nurses who had voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action over endless overcrowding and health and safety issues.
The threatened strike in seven hospitals planned for this Thursday looks set to be called off after marathon talks on Saturday, during which a new set of proposals to give more guarantees to nurses were finally agreed upon.
Just weeks earlier, nurses balloted to reject a series of original proposals - a move that heralded their intent and proved they were not willing to accept what they clearly felt were empty promises that could and would not be fulfilled.
This time, however, there appears to be a breakthrough after the HSE guaranteed that a series of measures known as 'escalation procedures' will kick-in when overcrowding in emergency departments reaches a serious level.
These involve consultants doing more ward rounds to discharge patients and the cancellation of patients on waiting lists due to be admitted for operations. Part of the deal is that these measures are to be implemented across all hospitals on a consistent basis.
Mandatory, weekly high-level meetings at hospital or group level, between the chief executive, chief operations officer, clinical director and director of nursing and nurses' representatives, have also been agreed to monitor their implementation.
This new agreement is a long time coming and one that should have been ironed out years ago, considering that the problem of overcrowding was declared a national emergency back in 2006.
But the result is a testament to the country's nurses and their staunch union leaders, who said enough is enough and would not back down until their concerns were finally addressed.
The decision to push ahead with industrial action in the country's hospitals was, of course, a bold one but one that was completely necessary for nurses who describe current working conditions in Irish emergency departments as 'intolerable'.
The fact that 92 per cent of INMO members voted in favour of striking shows the overwhelming level of discontent among the country's nurses who have been dealing with this issue for well over a decade. Nurses, by their very nature, will work tirelessly for patients in extreme conditions but there comes a time when they have to say 'enough is enough', a time when they have to consider their own well-being as well as the people they are caring for.
By voting to strike, nurses had made it clear that they will no longer tolerate constant overcrowding, where both the care of patient and the health and well-being of staff is compromised without anyone in authority seeming to recognise the consequences
Thankfully, it seems that the HSE has finally seen their true value. Now, let's just hope they honour their promises.