Lack of agreement saw nurses back on strike
Nurses and midwives continued their action outside Wexford General Hospital last week as the dispute between the government and the INMO rumbled on.
Last Tuesday, the miserable wet weather didn't seem to dampen the resolve of the nurses in the slightest, as they continued to march up and down outside of the hospital, drawing approving honks from passing motorists.
If there were any fewer nurses out on the picket lines, it wasn't because of the weather, it was owing to the hospital being over capacity after a busy weekend. Several nurses were pulled from the picket lines, inside to try and help with the overflow.
'It was rough on Tuesday,' said INMO representative at Wexford General Emer Ward. 'Extra beds had to be opened up and it was pretty full on. The weekend was very busy and A&E was very busy, so we had to bring staff in and the discharge lounge had to be opened up as an in-patient area.'
'Again this is all about patient safety,' Ms Ward said. 'The opening of extra areas and the hospital being over capacity is nothing to do with the dispute. Even if we were fully staffed, we would've been in the same situation.'
Ms Ward added that, once again, the support from the people of Wexford was fantastic. Over the course of both Tuesday and Thursday, a steady stream of well-wishers came by, dropping off supplies such as hot drinks, hot food, cakes and sweets for those wearing a path up and down outside the hospital.
While she said that the situation at Wexford General had improved slightly on Thursday, everyone had been braced for further action this week.
One of the things initially touted last week from the government was the potential for pay sanctions on striking nurses. According to Ms Ward, however, this threat has served to only strengthen resolve.
'To us, it's a complete lack of respect,' she said. 'To suggest penalising nurses... I've never heard of the government threatening to penalise staff in a situation like this. I'm surprised at Simon Harris, given the fact that his wife is a nurse. If anything, though, I feel it has strengthened our resolve and made us more determined.'
Despite the nurses' assertion that things improved slightly on Thursday when compared to Tuesday, it was reported that Wexford General Hospital may have made an application to come 'off call' briefly on Thursday evening - meaning all emergencies would have been directed to Kilkenny and Waterford.
However, consultant in emergency medicine at the hospital Paul Kelly said that he was unaware if this action had been taken.
'That may have gone on later in the evening, but I'm not sure,' he said. 'I'm certainly not aware of it. Thursday did get very busy. We had consultants on the floor from 6 a.m. until 4 a.m. - almost 24-hour consultant coverage. The nurses still put patients first and any patients that were very ill received the required care from them.'
While the strikes have had a major impact, Mr Kelly believes that Wexford General is coping quite well.
'Wexford General tends to manage bed capacity issues better than some other hospitals,' he said. 'We run things quite well when we're overcrowded and see patients promptly enough. On Tuesday we managed quite well, but Thursday was busier.'
Mr Kelly urged the public to be mindful of delays and avoid attending the hospital except in the case of an emergency.
'We would advice patients to seek help from their GP first,' he said. 'Inevitably there will be significant delays over the coming days. We are so dependant on nurses. They are the back bone of the health system.'