Nurses and midwives have begun voting on whether to go on strike, in a dispute over chronic understaffing within the health service.
Last month, members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) voted overwhelmingly to reject pay proposals put forward by the Government. The organisation insisted that low wages have made it 'impossible' for the HSE to recruit and retain enough nurses to provide appropriate and safe care.
The INMO had warned that it would begin balloting nurses on November 19, but it was open to meetings with the HSE and Department of Health in an effort to avoid this. However, at a meeting on November 9, while both the HSE and department acknowledged that the recruitment and retention of nurses remains a major difficulty, no proposals to tackle this issue were made.
Voting will now run in hospitals and other workplaces nationwide until December 13. The INMO currently has 40,000 members, and all those employed by the public health service have a right to vote.
The organisation's executive committee has recommended that members should vote in favour of strike action.
If members vote in favour of the action, nurses and midwives will stop work for 24 hours. If unresolved, this will escalate to further 24-hour stoppages, with members only providing a minimum of lifesaving care and emergency response teams.
This would mark only the second all-out national strike in the INMO's 100-year history. The last strike occurred in 1999.
According to INMO general secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, this dispute is ‘all about safety'.
"Nurses and midwives do not want to go on strike. We just want to do our jobs and care for patients. Yet understaffing means we can no longer do that. The Government are ignoring voices from the frontline. Without a pay rise for nurses and midwives, we will never be able to recruit enough staff for a safe health service," she commented.
She added that going on strike is not a decision that is being taken lightly, but nurses feel that they have been left with no option and are now being ‘forced down this path'.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.