Saturday 16 February 2019

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Can the Government do without nurses and midwives?

Wednesday, 6th February, 2019 4:50pm

I’m a nurse and a midwife in CUMH Birthing Suite. I love my job as do all of my colleagues.

Right now we are on strike nationally. It’s more than just standing outside the hospital and closing clinics, cancelling surgeries as we argue that we are worth the restoration of our pay.

It is the fight of our lives. We want parity with other allied health professionals.

What is an allied health professional? A physiotherapist, an occupational therapist or a speech and language therapist. These professions have degrees as do we as nurses and midwives.

Many of us are specialists, advanced practitioners, can prescribe medications, hold masters and PhDs.

Irish nurses and midwives are among the best in the world. We provide a 24/7 service 365 days of the year. All around the world Irish nurses and midwives are accessing well paid jobs doing the same duties with fewer patients and better shift patterns.

It’s not just about how we are undervalued by the Government either. Every day appointments or surgeries are cancelled due to nursing and midwifery staffing shortages.

That says two things. The Government doesn’t care about us nurses and midwives, and they don’t care about the people of Ireland who need safe healthcare. The HSE spent over 100 million euro on agency staffing in 2018. This would go a long way towards restoring our pay to a level on par with our colleagues. If we had more nurses and midwives, short staffing, sick leave and burnout wouldn’t be such a huge problem.

I’ve been extremely busy as I am working on the strike committee. It’s been a real challenge! Normally I work on the birthing suite where we literally hold lives in our hands.

Usually as a midwife, I could be helping women during labour or looking after sick mothers in our High Dependency Unit. If I am in a room caring for a woman or if I get a break and I can hear a call bell, I get up and answer it. It means someone needs help!

When I answer a call bell, I could walk into the room to be faced with any kind of obstetric or neonatal emergency. On a daily basis this could involve a fainting birth partner, a woman experiencing a severe haemorrhage, septic shock or resuscitating newborn babies.

You need to be on top of your game. Many of the women say afterwards they didn’t realise anything was wrong, because we acted so quickly at the time.

My work on the strike committee involves multidisciplinary meetings between the INMO and the hospital management and all the staff in the hospital. When we are so short staffed every day, it has been a real challenge to ensure safe staffing during the strike and get plenty staff to attend the picket lines.

Most of the people outside at the gate are coming in on their days off, maternity leave or before starting night duty later that day. We organise that too.

There are hundreds of people to make arrangements with but we are working hard as a team. Nobody wants to do overtime anymore as it is just papering over the cracks and hides the problem of staff shortages. At the end of the day, most of us agree that it is not worth the extra money, as we are still working in a dangerous work environment.

We always worry that if something goes wrong, we will lose our registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland which allows us to work.

My colleagues are tired of these conditions and we don’t want to be on strike. It’s a difficult place to be but if we do nothing, then we will never have enough staff and the conditions will just get worse and worse.

Who will be there to look after us? We want to give safe care like we were taught about in university. Other countries have safe patient ratios in hospitals and maternity units.

We don’t have safe levels in Ireland. All the guidelines and international recommendations are sitting on shelves gathering dust.

We want to go home knowing we have done our best. I spent a long cold day on Wednesday 30 January out at the picket chanting, co-coordinating and keeping spirits up. It only made me more determined because we saw that the Government was willing to leave patients without proper care.

The Government doesn’t even seem to be listening. They are too worried about Brexit and the children’s hospital. (I wonder who will work there?).

We had sign in stations in the hospital for three hour slots last week and they were kept going all day. There were hundreds of nurses and midwives out on the picket line. It reminded us that we are all together in this fight!

So many people came in to picket despite the bad weather. The passers-by and local businesses gave us such huge support we were absolutely blown away. People came with tea, soup, sandwiches, pizzas, donuts and cupcakes. It was absolutely heart-warming.

We didn’t know what to do with ourselves! Normally we look after people. It’s just who we are. We weren’t used to being to ones being taken care of!

We are so grateful to our colleagues for working in strike conditions, we are grateful to the patients for their understanding and we are grateful to the public for their support. We really hope people will continue to be understanding.

This week we are geared up for two days of strike in over 200 services across the country.

It will affect a lot of people. We know that. We feel terrible but by striking we are trying to make the health service better for everybody.

We all have families who come through the health service in one way or another. The support for the strike has been tremendous especially on social media.

There has been a lot of spin by the Government to try to bully us and shame us but we are very firm in our convictions to do the right thing. Everyone out on the picket line can walk with their heads held high.

In my years of healthcare work, I have learned that there is nothing we cannot deal with - we miss meals yet work for 12 or more hours, we get out late, work unsociable hours and deal with all the inherent pressures of the job.

Being outside picketing isn’t easy but it’s not as bad as working inside the hospital. We can definitely deal with a few more days out on the picket line! We have our picket rosters organised!

Can the Government deal with a service without nurses and midwives? We don’t think so!

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