Yesterday, the Labour Court intervened and gave its recommendations for what it considered the best course of action to help resolve the ongoing pay disputes between the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, the Psychiatric Nurses Association and the government. It recommended the introduction of a revised and enhanced nurses salary scale that would kick in when nurses reach point 4 on the existing salary scale. It would result, on average, in a salary increase of some €2,500 for nurses entering this pay bracket. At this point nurses would also transition onto a different bracket which would accelerate pay increases. As a result, the INMO and PNA cancelled their proposed three day strike.
While this deal is being considered by the unions concerned and the government, it is worth remembering the struggle that nurses face on a daily basis. The demands of such a job can never be underestimated. One of the main tenets of the protesting nurses was the fact that the incredibly low-pay afforded to Irish nurses dissuades so many graduating student nurses from seeking a career within the HSE, which has consequently led to major staffing problems.
The unpaid placement that student nurses are required to take during their tuition has long been a bone of contention as, it is often used, not necessarily as an opportunity for students to be gradually introduced to the realities of nursing, but rather as an opportunity for the HSE to help fill staffing gaps. Consequently many student nurses find themselves essentially doing the job of a fully qualified nurse.
While the proposed pay amendments will eventually provide nurses with an improved salary, it does not directly address this issues of retention regarding young staff. Graduating nurses will still have to wait a significant period of time, working under current conditions that have led in part to these strikes in the first place, before they will receive any increase in salary. Though the Labour Court proposals may be a positive sign of progress on the issue, their recommendations by no means seem a perfect solution.
Well, in the build-up to the strikes, Kate Brennan, a student nurse on her third-year placement, wrote a moving blog post about why it is so vital for the work of nurses, and student nurses, to be treated with higher regard.
I am a third year student nurse. I was genuinely stunned when I first entered nursing. Clinical placement - the time you work in hospital wards as a student, 35 hours a week for free) shook me to my core back in first year. You meet patients at their very worst and are allowed into their darkest moments.
However in exchange you get a glimpse into faith, the power of family, the hope of better days, the magic of a good cup of tea, how laughter, banter and visitors heal, how kindness is catching and how we are all connection through the share experience of being human.
Walking into the ward in first year, with 3 months of theory behind me, felt like going to the moon. After some initial teething problems I grew to value, appreciate and enjoy the career.
The life of a nurse is not for the faint-hearted. Not a day goes by that I do not find myself truly touched by humanity. I see great loss and greater love. Caring for strangers does something to you and you leave each day feeling like you have made a difference.
I have learnt a lot about life through nursing and feel like I myself have grown stronger and more compassionate as a result.
However, the current climate in Irish hospitals has left myself and my fellows lost for words. If only we could film the 13 hour work life of a nurse then maybe things would change.
Basic care is the pillar of nursing. When the chips are down, the small things become the big things. We as nurses know this and try to do for people when they can’t themselves. Feeding, changing, toileting, minding, reassuring, mobilising, adjusting, cleaning, treating, laughing with, holding, listening, medicating, answering questions, standing up for patients, advocating, advising and empowering are just a few of the actions that nurses do on a daily basis.
Staffing is beyond low. Hospitals are struggling to hire and retain nurses due to the very low wage offered. I don’t want people to assume that the planned strike is coming from a place of greed. Nurses deserve to be paid a fair wage for the incredible, selfless, 4 years of unpaid college placement work that they do. The low staffing levels results in a reduced ability to care for vulnerable patients.
Most days there are not physically enough staff bodies on the ward to give the level of care and attention that sick people deserve. An increase in the pay would lead to an increase in the likelihood of young graduate nurses staying in Ireland.
When we graduate, we are given a degree in one hand and plane tickets in the other. I do not know of any of my friends that plan to stay in Irish healthcare once qualified and that deeply saddens me.
Everyone going on strike has my full support and respect. I can only hope that this time change happens for everyone’s sake, sanity and safety.
With thanks to Kate Brennan for the use of her blog.