THE UNION representing nurses and midwives in Ireland have urge the Government to declare a National Emergency as the health service struggles under severe pressure.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Association (INMO) are asking for emergency government intervention, as the growth in Covid-19 cases has put frontline staff under "unprecedented" pressure.
The steady spike in cases seen since the run-up to Christmas has led patients to be treated in ambulances outside hospitals as there are no beds available; have seen Ireland running dangerously low on ICU capacity, and have seen frontline workers identified as close contacts told to return to work due to severe staff shortages.
To help combat the strain on the health service, and on the nurses and midwives employed by the HSE, the INMO are calling on the government to implement the following:
- Increased safety standards by upgrading the level of PPE in healthcare settings, and ending the policy calling for close contact of confirmed cases to return to work
- Using private hospitals to their full capacity in the public system to provide additional beds and staffing to the public service. The INMO notes that as of now, the Government plans to temporarily nationalise just one third of the capacity of public hospitals
- Implementing childminding provision, such as partial school reopenings or expansion of after-school care, so frontline staff with children can attend work
- Prioritising healthcare staff for the vaccine to continue, with a latest date set for when all healthcare workers will have received the jab
- Protections and pay for nursing and midwifery students, " who are facing high COVID risks on no or unacceptably low pay, in many cases without necessary employment rights and protections."
Speaking on the pressure on the HSE and the INMO members, NMO President and emergency department nurse, Karen McGowan, said:
“The message from our members is very clear. The system is overloaded and they cannot cope.
“Decisions at every level are happening too late to prevent infection and overburden. The consequences are increasingly clear - our frontline members are paying the price.”
INMO General Secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said:
“This is a national emergency. It should be treated as such. The public health service was not fit for purpose before the pandemic – it is now under a level of pressure not seen before.
“We are at the point where staff are not able to cope. There are huge numbers of very sick patients, with 7,000 HSE staff now out for COVID reasons. Over 2,500 healthcare workers a week are getting the virus.
“Our Executive Council has set out five practical measures the government should intervene with. We need all hands on deck in the health service and frontline staff must be protected.
“Safety standards need an urgent upgrade. Last year, the INMO had to campaign to get facemasks in healthcare settings. We were told it was not possible or necessary, but eventually they listened. We now know that all staff need to be issued with high-standard FFP2 masks, as has been done in Cork University Hospital.
“It is beyond time to nationalise all private hospital capacity and to provide childminding for healthcare workers with children. Similarly, we cannot ask students to take on more work at the expense of learning, for no or low pay.”