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Harney must intervene to ensure speedy resolution of nurses’ dispute

3 April, 2007

Ó Caoláin expresses Sinn Féin support for nurses

Speaking in the Dail today Sinn Féin Dáil leader and spokesperson on Health and Children Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD extended Sinn Féin's support for nurses' demands for a 35-hour working week and the resolution of pay anomalies. Deputy Ó Caoláin called on The Minister for Health and Children to intervene immediately to ensure that the dispute is resolved speedily through the granting of the shorter working week and the resolution of outstanding pay issues.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"I take this opportunity to extend my support and that of Sinn Féin, as expressed at our Ard Fheis last month, for the demand of the nurses for a 35-hour week and the resolution of outstanding pay anomalies. It is a scandal that the Irish Nurses Organisation and the Psychiatric Nurses Association should have to undertake a work to rule in the first place.

"This Government and the health service employers stand indicted that they have failed to resolve the key issues - issues that have been the subject of negotiation not for a few weeks or a few months past but for six years.

"In calling the work to rule the INO and PNA expressed their 'extreme disappointment and frustration at the failure of Health Service Employers to agree, despite previous statements that openness and creativity would be applied, a date for the introduction of a 35-hour week for nurse and midwives and the elimination of a pay anomaly which sees a qualified nurse paid less than an unqualified social care worker for 21 years'.

"The climate in which this work to rule is now taking place was worsened significantly by the statement of the Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney last week, in the context of the separate Cork Maternity Hospital dispute. She accused the nurses and midwives of delaying the opening of the hospital for money. The public knows that those nurses and midwives were not motivated by greed but by concern that the new maternity hospital would be properly staffed so that mothers and babies could receive the best care. I welcome the resolution of that dispute but have the Minister and the Health Service Executive learned the lesson?

"Nurses and midwives are clearly not prepared to tolerate any longer the understaffing and overworking which they face as front-line workers in a hospital system that is in perpetual crisis thanks to the bad policy and bad management of this Government and of the HSE. I have no doubt that this work to rule would never have arisen in a system where real reform was under way and where patients and staff knew that resources were being used in the best way to deliver care equitably and efficiently to all who need it.

"The mantra of 'benchmarking' has been much used and abused in this dispute. The attitude of the nurses was expressed when they announced the escalation of their protest action in March. They stated: 'As each day passes the frustration of our members, nationwide, increases as they hear the one line retort of 'go to benchmarking' from management grades who obtained a pay increase without going to benchmarking.'

"What benchmarking was there for the three top advisors to HSE Chief Executive Brendan Drumm who between them were paid €1 million in just 15 months up to January this year? This included an overtime rate of up to €1500 per day. One of these individuals contracted to advise Professor Drumm on primary care has now left the HSE to be a Director of a private healthcare development company. The HSE would be better off employing more cleaning staff in all our hospitals and paying them more generously to help stamp out MRSA. And they would certainly be better off dealing fairly with the nurses and midwives who deliver most of the care in our hospitals.

"For the sake of patients and their families and for the sake of nurses and midwives this dispute needs to be settled soon and settled justly. The Minister for Health and Children should intervene immediately to ensure that the dispute is resolved speedily through the granting of the shorter working week and the resolution of outstanding pay issues.

"Nurses and midwives have previously taken action in support of patients and demanding action to address the crisis in our hospital services. The nurses and midwives deserve our support now for their just demands and I wish them success in their campaign for a shorter working week and improved pay." ENDS

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