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INO Categorically Rejects Problems Re Opening Of Cork Maternity Unit Were About Money. 24/3/07
Comments by Minister and HSE CEO ill-informed and insulting

PRESS RELEASE - Saturday, March 24th, 2007

The Irish Nurses Organisation categorically rejects any and all assertions that the delay in opening the new Maternity Unit in Cork was due to a demand for more money from midwives and nurses.

For the past six months, at all meetings and in all public comment on this matter, the INO has consistently sought confirmation that the Health Service Executive, in Cork, would be in a position to provide all of the qualified midwifery and nursing staff required for this excellent new facility.  During this period we were constantly assured that staffing would not be a problem but, in recent days, the same management have had to acknowledge that they do not have the required number of staff, have not recruited the necessary additional staff, did not know how many midwifery staff would be coming from the private Bon Secours facility and were not in a position to confirm what level of temporary agency staff they could access.

This catastrophic failure by management, to fulfil its responsibilities, to both the users and providers of obstetric services in Cork, resulted in our members exercising their professional judgement and determining, by huge majorities, that the proposed staffing levels, available for the planned opening, on Saturday, March 24th, were unsafe, unsatisfactory and potentially injurious to mothers and babies.  In that context, again exercising their professional judgement in the interests of the patients they serve every day, they collectively decided that it was preferable, notwithstanding the physical attractiveness of the new unit, to remain in the three existing facilities, which have served the mothers and babies of Cork well for many years, until the staffing issue has been resolved and rectified.

In confirming the foregoing, and again in the context of the grossly unfair and unfounded attack upon this organisation’s midwifery and nursing members in Cork in the past few hours, the Organisation would draw attention to the following documents which are available from Ann Keating:

  1. Extract from the HSE submission to the recent Labour Court hearing, which clearly indicates that they have, available immediately, 375 qualified midwives and nurses to work in the new unit;
  2. Extract, from an earlier contribution by Ms Mary Harney TD , Minister for Health and Children, to the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children which confirmed that “The full midwifery staff complement will be 383 by the time all services are introduced on a phased basis by next December.”
  3. A copy of the staffing profile, provided by the HSE South management on Thursday, March 22nd, which confirms that they only have 315 qualified nurses and midwives available with 60 posts currently vacant;
  4. Extract from a letter from the HSE (South), dated March 23rd, which again confirms that the HSE “do not have the full complement of staff available” and that they were seeking to recruit, as yet an unknown number, from all known on-call nursing agencies.

In addition to these explicit factual statements the HSE (South) had also requested, in recent days, that, in order to fill in for these vacant posts, all of our members would be asked to do overtime as a means of supplying the additional qualified manpower until the on-going recruitment initiatives had secured additional appointments.  It must be noted that throughout the discussions, right up to Saturday evening, the HSE management, in Cork, readily acknowledged they did not have 375 qualified nurses and midwives and they were not in a position to confirm when, or if, that level of staffing would be realised in the short to medium term.

Against this background, notwithstanding the fact that the INO recommended a revised set of proposals to our members on Friday evening, our members, exercising, in a totally proper manner, their professional judgement almost unanimously rejected the proposals solely on the grounds that they were unhappy with the staffing levels, felt that the level of preparedness was inadequate and that the opening of the new facility, which every member thinks is excellent, should be delayed until the staffing issues have been addressed on a permanent and planned basis.  At no stage, at the meeting of over 200 members, held on Friday evening to consider these proposals, was the issue of money or financial gain discussed with the total focus being on the complete lack of clarity and certainty about staffing levels.

Speaking late Saturday evening Liam Doran, INO General Secretary said:

“It was with profound regret and sadness that I heard both the Minister for Health and Children and the CEO of the Health Service Executive make such unfounded, ill-informed and insulting comments about this organisation’s midwifery and nursing membership working in the Erinville, St Finbarr’s and Bon Secours Hospitals in Cork City.

Throughout the negotiations, about the transfer to the new unit, this organisation, at the specific direction of our members, has repeatedly prioritised the issue of staffing.  At all stages we have been transparent and all we have sought is the full implementation of an independent expert’s report and, subsequently, a guaranteed implementation of the recent labour court recommendation which stipulated that 375 qualified nurses and midwives should staff the new Unit.

Despite asserting to the Court that they had 375 staff available, the HSE (South) management, in the past 48 hours, have had to admit that they never had this level of staff available and that they were not able to provide this volume of staff for the opening planned for earlier today.

This is not an acceptable way to deal with the fundamental function of a health facility which is, regardless of the excellence of the physical surroundings, to ensure the immediate, and on-going, availability of the necessary professional expertise to ensure safety and well-being of the users of this service.

In the absence of these guarantees our members did the only honourable thing, which was to express publicly their reservations and to say that maintaining the existing services was preferable to opening the new service that, for a miscellaneous number of reasons, was understaffed.

This decision was not taken lightly and our members knew that some parties might, in an effort to deflect attention away from their own failings, seek to pour criticism on the decision taken for professional reasons in the interests of patient care - a concept, regrettably, that some health managers have no comprehension of.

However, what these members would not have expected is their Minister for Health and Children and the CEO of the Health Service Executive, publicly criticising their decision with the use of the words ‘disgraceful’ and that it was ‘all about money’.  These two developments have been greeted with bewilderment and frustration particularly when the INO was not asked, by either the Minister or the CEO, to explain their position over the last difficult days.”

Mr Doran concluded:

“Notwithstanding these unfounded criticisms, and the total failure of health service management to fulfil their stated commitments, to the people of Cork, the Labour Court, the government and the midwives and nurses they employ, the INO has, and will, commit itself to every discussion and initiative, over the next seven days, in an effort to ensure that these staffing and other clinical issues, are addressed and that the unit can open in 7 days time.”




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