Irish eyes are crying

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“We need to protect our patients and win their support back” – Claire Mahon

Four years of recession have taken their toll on Ireland’s nurses – but their union is leading a campaign to recover lost jobs and services.

Sixteen hundred Irish student nurses will graduate this month but none will get nursing jobs in Ireland.

A government ban on recruitment means that many will be forced to seek work overseas in countries including Australia.

Ireland’s future nurses are not the only casualties of a harsh four years of recession following a 2008 banking collapse brought on by financial speculation and a property bubble.

“Our government guaranteed all bank debt without knowing the full cost, and put the burden of repayment on the ordinary taxpaying worker,” Claire Mahon, president of the Irish Nurses and Midwives’ Organisation, told the NSWNA annual conference.

Ireland’s public health system and its nurses are reeling from budget cuts, wage cuts and tax increases designed to help the government pay the banks’ debts, Claire said. The consequences include no replacements for sick leave and maternity leave, bans on hiring agency nurses, closure of some wards, operating theatres and even entire hospitals.

Claire said all public sector employees lost 20-25% of annual income when the government imposed wage cuts, tax increases and a levy on superannuation.

Then came the 2010-2014 Croke Park Agreement, under which the government undertook not to impose further pay cuts and compulsory redundancies on the public sector. In return, unions agreed to help achieve (in the words of the Irish Department of Public Expenditure and Reform) “efficiencies and savings so that both the cost and the number of people working in the public service can fall significantly, while continuing to meet the need for services and improve the experience of service users”.

“We were left with no choice but to agree,” Claire, a clinical nurse manager in trauma services at Waterford regional hospital, said.

With ongoing forced redundancies in the private sector, Claire says the media began vilifying nurses and other public employees because their jobs were now guaranteed.

“Everything is targeted at public servants even though we did not cause the financial crash.

“We have huge staff shortages as a result of losing 5000 nurses through ‘incentivised’ retirement schemes and natural attrition.

“Yet there is increased demand for our services because people can no longer afford private health insurance.

“In my hospital, managers are taking more patients out of ED and putting them on trolleys in ward corridors. Our union is running a public campaign called Trolley Watch to highlight this development.”

Another campaign called Safe Practice, aims to get Irish nurses to highlight staff shortages by reporting clinical risk to managers. This includes nurses filling in disclaimer forms saying they will not take responsibility for resulting threats to public safety.

“We need to protect our patients and win their support back – bring them back to believing in our profession,” Claire said.

“I love the NSWNA’s television campaign, I think your advertising is brilliant and I might bring something like that back home with me.

“We have to share our experiences with colleagues around the world and hopefully help others fight what might be coming down the road for them.”

She said the nurses’ union was trying to show the government the economic value of “nurse-led initiatives” and advanced nurse and midwifery practice.

“The health service is now focused on trying to get patients out in to the community so we’re trying to show we can lead that change by highlighting the role of the nurse in chronic disease management, community care and intervention.

“We are trying to show that nurses can be more beneficial to the service than some of our more expensive colleagues. Medical consultants have not been hit in any way by the recruitment moratorium – in fact their numbers have risen.”