Nurses and midwives across the Republic of Ireland are staging protests this week against staff shortages and patient overcrowding in their hospitals.
The picketers want their actions to pile pressure on the Health Service Executive (HSE) to make adequate plans for the coming winter to meet the expected increase in patients.
“Nurses and midwives are constantly apologising to patients for the conditions in the health service”
Phil Ní Sheaghdha
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) claims hospital overcrowding was the worst on record in August, with 7,911 patients made to wait in corridors on trolleys or chairs for a bed to become free.
The union has highlighted hundreds of vacant nursing posts in emergency departments across Ireland and is demanding that the HSE takes action to fill them before the busy winter.
Staff held lunchtimes demonstrations outside University Hospital Galway on Monday, and outside University Hospital Limerick and Cork University Hospital today. Further protests are being planned by the INMO.
Its general secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said: “Nurses and midwives are constantly apologising to patients for the conditions in the health service. Thousands are trapped on trolleys every week, and things will only get worse as winter bites.
“Yet the HSE still has no plan to recruit extra staff or cut back services to cope with the demand. This could lead to unplanned cancellations of elective appointments,” he said. “We can’t go on like this. It’s time for the HSE to be honest with the public.”
“The HSE remains committed to minimising delays for patients, and to ensuring that adequate resources are in place”
But a spokeswoman for the HSE, the government agency responsible for the provision of health and services in Ireland, said winter planning was “well underway”.
She said the number of nurses employed in emergency departments had increased by 22% from 1,231 at the end of 2015 to 1,500 now.
While admitting there were still 169 vacancies across 29 accident and emergency departments in the country, the spokeswoman said a “significant” number of those were being filled by agency staff and by “overtime working arrangements”.
She added that discussions were ongoing with the Irish government’s Department of Health in relation to funding for an additional 57 nursing posts.
The HSE spokeswoman said: “As emergency department attendances and admissions continue to rise, emergency departments are under increasing pressure to meet this new level of demand and ensure the provision of timely safe and effective care for patients.
“The HSE remains committed to minimising delays for patients, and to ensuring that adequate resources are in place in emergency departments throughout the country.”