Nurses’ strike, hospital’s cost ratchet up pressure on Harris

The ratcheting up of pressure on the Health Minister Simon Harris continues as nurses return in force to the picket line today and criticism of the runaway costs of the new children’s hospital continues.

Up to 50,000 patients face cancelled appointments this week as nurses strike today and again on Thursday. 

Two nurses’ unions — the 35,000-strong Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and the 6,000-member Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) — have both escalated their disputes.

The INMO announced two new strike dates at the weekend, in addition to six previously announced, while the PNA is to extend a daytime overtime ban to a 24-hour ban, including night rosters, tomorrow and Thursday. 

Today, the PNA is engaged in a daytime overtime ban.

A joint press statement from Mr Harris and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe said they would be willing to engage with the INMO to discuss “the further rollout of a Safe Staffing Framework to improve staff and patient outcomes and reduce reliance on agency staffing in our hospitals”.

INMO general secretary Phil Ní Shéaghdha described the statement as “the most cynical move” she had witnessed in over 20 years of industrial relations, as the staffing framework was part of an agreement reached in 2017, which had been only partially implemented and was now being “recycled and dressed up as something new”.

She said the INMO had already spent three days prior to the strikes at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) — where the Government is now suggesting they return — to no avail.

“There is no offer,” said Ms Ní Shéaghdha. “We haven’t received an invite from the WRC. The first we heard of this is in the press.

“Plus, the caveat they are putting around talks is that we can talk about everything except pay.”

PNA general secretary Peter Hugh said their action was going ahead “in the absence of any meaningful engagement or proposals from the Government to address the recruitment and retention crisis in nursing”.

He said the extension of the overtime ban to overnight tomorrow and Thursday would “unfortunately show the reliance of mental health services on overtime”.

A joint PNA-INMO rally of nurses will be held on Saturday commencing at the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square, at 12.30pm.

The National Association of General Practitioners will also drive a cavalcade of cars to Dáil Éireann alongside hundreds of GPs tomorrow in protest at cuts to the sector.

Meanwhile, as controversy continues to rage over the €1.7bn children’s hospital bill, Mr Harris said the terms of reference of a PWC review of the cost escalation will be revised to hold individuals to account. 

Originally the review was to “stop short” of individual culpability, causing uproar among Opposition politicians.

Mr Harris said the new probe will hold individuals to account and will also see if there are options to reduce the construction bill for the hospital. 

A spokeswoman for the minister said: “Discussions are ongoing on amending the terms of reference for the review into the national children’s hospital to ensure they are as robust as possible.”

Mr Harris also confirmed that further heads could roll. 

The first casualty, chair of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board, Tom Costello, resigned at the weekend. 

Mr Harris said he did not ask him to resign.

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