A three-day walk-out by nurses from tomorrow will cripple hospital services and threatens to put patients’ lives at risk.
More than 40,000 striking nurses will leave hospitals, psychiatric units and community health services reduced to emergency cover only from 8am tomorrow.
It comes after marathon exploratory talks between the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) over pay remained deadlocked at the Labour Relations Commission.
The HSE has warned of serious risk to patient safety if the prolonged and unprecedented level of strike action goes ahead, leaving hospitals and community services struggling to prevent major adverse incidents.
It will hit 40,000 acute hospital patients, 2,000 psychiatric patients and up to 20,000 more people in the community, including the elderly and the disabled whose day services will be shut.
Most surgery will be cancelled, including some cancer operations, and all outpatient clinics will be shut down for the three days.
A spokeswoman for the HSE said it would be talking to strike committees at mental health facilities “to ensure patient safety”.
Already a backlog of 40,000 patients – whose hospital appointments were cancelled during the previous three days of strikes – has built up, and it will be weeks before they are seen or have surgery.
A gulf remained between the nurses’ pay demands – priced by the Government at €300m – and the Health and Public Expenditure Departments, amid fears any deal will lead to knock-on claims from other unions. Department of Public Expenditure Secretary General Robert Watt was called to the talks yesterday afternoon in the hope of securing some breakthrough.
INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said her union would remain in the talks until there was some credible offer they could put to their members.
However, sources at the talks said it was impossible to predict the outcome last night.
The Labour Relations Commission was trying to decide whether it had any chance of resolving the dispute by making a formal intervention.
Discussions were still at an exploratory stage. However, if there is progress, the commission might ask the union to suspend the strikes.
It is understood there has been discussion around setting up a review of nurses’ terms and conditions, but the unions’ demand for an upfront pay rise was a major stumbling block.
Officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform expressed grave concern about the impact of knock-on claims by other public servants.
The HSE said it was monitoring the Labour Court and patients would be contacted if there was any suspension of the strike action.
The nurses’ campaign drew thousands to the streets of Dublin on Saturday at a march organised by the INMO.
The clock is ticking to resolve the dispute within the terms of the current public sector pay deal.
The INMO is arguing the agreement would allow a pay boost without triggering cross-sectoral claims. But this is only on the basis the Government accepts there is a recruitment and retention crisis in nursing.
However, the public service pay commission found there was no crisis generally among nurses.
But it did say there were retention issues among specialised grades.
The Government has already offered the nursing unions a €20m deal on this basis – but they rejected it.
Any deal from these talks is likely to include the €20m deal that would mean hikes in some allowances and the shortening of some pay scales.
Meanwhile, the Psychiatric Nurses’ Association is to stage another three days of strikes.