Stand with Midwives and Nurses (INMO)
Image via: @INMO_IRL (Twitter)

Thousands of members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) took part in a 24-hour strike on January 30 with more strikes likely to follow. The nurses are protesting for pay increases which they believe are essential to address the shortage of nursing staff which is placing the health and safety of patients at risk.

Over 30,000 nurses and midwives joined the picket lines in front of hospitals in the first national strike in 20 years and only the second one in the 100-year history of the INMO. Photographs in the media clearly show the nurses wrapped up against the freezing weather while taking their stand. “I don’t think I was as cold on the picket line with my mother in 1999 as I was today. Twenty years on a new generation of nurses are continuing the fight for patient safety,” tweeted ElainioM. There was also some humor like the sign “Make womb in your budget” displayed by midwives at Wexford General Hospital.

Preparing for the strike

The INMO and health services management worked together before the strike on agreements around the provision of skeleton staff for emergency services and to deal with any major incidents that might occur. However, thousands of outpatient appointments, planned procedures, and contacts in community services were canceled for the day of the strike.

NURSES would rather care for their patients than go on strike, but were left with no choice

In interviews with the media, most of the nurses expressed that they would rather care for their patients than go on strike, but were left with no choice. “None of us wants to strike,” said Lisa Kelly from Dublin. “Non-emergency services and procedures are canceled every single day because of lack of beds and lack of staff. They will be canceled on Wednesday like they’re canceled all year round, only this time the government is telling people about it.”

Worldwide solidarity

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The Irish nurses received widespread support from the public for their cause – cars beeping and people bringing hot drinks and food, opposition politicians speaking out for nurses, trending topics on social media, and extensive coverage in the media. A poll of 1,000 adults in Ireland found that 74% of the respondents supported the strike by the nurses.

Even doctors spoke out in support of their nursing colleagues. Gastroenterologist Anthony O’Connor tweeted that it was “time to value” nurses “the glue holding our bockety old system together.” There were further messages of encouragement from nursing organizations across the globe, including the Canadian and New York State Nurses Associations.

Thankful for support

The INMO thanked the public for their overwhelming messages of support, even while they were inconvenienced. They reported that their Stand With Us petition had received over 60,000 signatures in just ten days.

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In contrast, the government is holding firm that they cannot support any pay rises outside of the existing public sector pay agreement, that the nurses’ demands are unaffordable and would lead to knock-on claims by other unions. According to the INMO, there haven’t been any realistic proposals by the government despite talks mediated by the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court.  In the meantime, it has come to light that the health ministry is obtaining legal advice on a pay freeze or other sanctions which can be taken against the striking nurses – a move opposed even by some of the government’s ministers.

It appears as though there is little chance of a breakthrough in the dispute soon and that the further planned strikes on February 5 and 7, and on February 12-14, are likely to proceed. On February 1, the INMO also announced that further dates for possible strike action would be planned during an executive committee meeting on the following day.

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Frieda Paton, M.Cur, RN
Frieda Paton is a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in nursing education. Her passion for nursing education, nursing issues and advocacy for the profession were ignited while she worked as an education officer, and later editor, at a national nurses’ association. This passion, together with interest in health and wellness education since her student days, stayed with her throughout her further career as a nurse educator and occupational health nurse. Having reached retirement age, she continues to contribute to the profession as a full-time freelance writer. In the news and feature articles she writes for Nurseslabs, she hopes to inspire nursing students and nurses on the job to reflect on the trends and issues that affect their profession and communities - and play their part in advocacy wherever they find themselves.

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