The Green Party expressed support for industrial action taken by nursing staff across the country last week. Their local election candidate in East Cork, Liam Quaide, stated, “we stand with the nurses in their claims. The conditions that many nurses face on a daily basis are totally unacceptable. Understaffed wards are putting patients at risk. To have a decent healthcare system we need to value our nurses and this means addressing legitimate concerns about pay, conditions and staffing levels.”
Mr. Quaide criticised the government’s decision to take legal advice on applying sanctions, including wage penalties, to striking nurses. “This is an attempt to intimidate the nurses and illustrates a lack of real engagement with their grievances. Exaggerated pay demand figures, taken out of context, have been put into the media by Ministers to discredit the nurses. The government has claimed that their main union – the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation – made a blanket 12% pay rise demand and that this would cost the taxpayer €300m. The INMO has clarified that this is an inaccurate gross figure which does not take into account the instant returns of €90 to €120m to the exchequer via income tax and USC.”
Mr. Quaide also pointed out that €100m per year is currently spent on agency nurses due to staffing shortages, which in turn result from poor pay and working conditions. He stated that, “these agency costs could be greatly reduced if the pay and conditions of regular nurses were improved. The benefits to services of having more consistent staff would be invaluable. There would also be a reduced need for overseas recruitment, which costs the government €10,000 per nurse in recruitment fees.”
According to Mr. Quaide, “attempts to undermine the nurses have occurred elsewhere. On national radio last week a Fine Gael TD quoted a starting salary for graduate nurses as being €6000 higher than the actual figure. An average salary figure of all nurses combined was frequently quoted to mask the reductions that have been applied to new entrants.”
Mr. Quaide went on to say that “nurses’ salaries have declined in real terms between 7.8% and 9.1% since 2007. This does not take into account the pension levy that amounted to an additional 7% reduction on average. I work with highly qualified and skilled nurses in the mental health system and have seen the struggles new entrants experience with low pay.”
Highlighting the work conditions of many nurses, he said, “there are 1754 fewer staff nurses in the system than ten years ago, despite an increased and older population. The extremely stressful situations that our nurses are working in take a considerable toll on their well-being. They are often expected to meet the the needs of too many patients and can endure the frustration of the public on a daily basis as a result. 2018 was the worst year on record for hospital overcrowding.
These pressures, coupled with poor wage prospects, have led to a large number of graduating nurses emigrating for a more humane working life. This is a great loss to our health service and, for those nurses who wish to return but who cannot face conditions here, is a serious personal price to pay.”