MAKING THEIR VIEWS KNOWN Members of the Irish Nurses and Midwife Organisation (INMO) from Mayo University Hospital taking part in a lunchtime protest in Castlebar on Monday afternoon. Pic: Conor McKeown
Nurses are being crushed by excessive workloads and staffing pressure in Mayo University Hospital.
That was the powerful message delivered on the streets of Castlebar yesterday (Monday), when hundreds of staff took part in a public protest. The action was taken to highlight what they say is a ‘totally unsafe’ environment for patients and staff in the hospital.
Protesting during their lunch break, the nurses said the hospital is dangerously understaffed and morale levels are at an all-time low.
“We’re being crushed,” INMO representative Ryan O’Sullivan told The Mayo News. “Nurses can’t get annual leave and can’t even get a tea break a lot of the time. Imagine what it’s like to work 13 hours a day without a break and struggling to get even a toilet break. It truly is crushing.
“We have raised formal grievances with the Saolta hospital group, but no improvements have been made to working conditions.”
O’Sullivan said he and his colleagues were gravely concerned about the staffing situation, which they say has created health and safety issues for both nurses and patients.
‘It’s definitely unsafe’
“The issues around recruitment and retention of staff has always been a problem here in Castlebar, but now it’s a different level altogether. It’s definitely unsafe to work in Mayo University Hospital,” he said.
“When I started here 20 years ago there was one nurse for every six patients, now there are shifts here where two nurses are looking after 30 patients. It was busy 20 years ago, so you can imagine the situation now. Our primary focus is always on the patients and will remain so, but the situation has got out of hand completely now.”
Ms Anne Bourke, Industrial Relations Officer for the INMO said her members urgently need help if a further crisis is to be avoided in MUH.
“This is simply a matter of safety. Admissions to hospital are creeping up alongside Covid numbers, and it’s not possible to keep staff and patients safe in these conditions.
“Staff in the hospital cannot keep up this relentless pace without some sort of relief, and we are going to see large numbers leaving nursing over the coming months if management don’t take steps to lighten the load.”
The Saolta Hospital Group released a statement saying it has been working to remedy the staffing difficulties in Castlebar.
“We regret the ongoing pressures facing nursing staff across our sites. Nursing staffing levels at MUH and at all our hospitals, and the improvement of these levels, are a priority for management within the hospital and within the Saolta Group. The challenges facing the hospital in relation to nurse recruitment are a national and international issue which is not specific to MUH.
“The hospital shares the frustrations of nursing staff, who continue to provide excellent care in very trying circumstances,” it said.
The statement went on to outline the group’s efforts to fix the staffing problem.
“A significant overseas nursing recruitment campaign is being actively progressed by the Saolta Group with a strong intention to have additional resources coming into the service within the next three months. This includes the largest overseas recruitment campaign in the history of the Saolta Group which encompasses [the recruitment of] 300 nursing staff.
“Interviews are ongoing at present, with an expected arrival date of January 2022 for the first tranche. Fifty-five of these are approved for MUH with 29 scheduled to arrive in January and another 26 in March.”
Those additional nurses will arrive too late according to the protesting INMO members who told The Mayo News that the situation is dire in MUH at the moment.
Jackie Hedley, a nurse who has worked in Castlebar since 1998 said the hospital always faced challenges but nothing ever as bad as this.
“It’s totally unsafe to work in the hospital or be a patient there, and that’s a terrible thing to have to say.
“We see reports every day where patients have to wait up to 12 hours to be seen in A&E, which is horrific, but there’s nothing we can do because we’re so short-staffed and there are emergency cases coming through the back door all the time.
“I’ve worked here for 23 years, and this is the worst I’ve ever seen. I used to enjoy coming to work, but now that has all changed. We’re all here protesting on our own time because we cannot stay quiet about the situation any longer.”
A number of politicians were present, including TDs Rose Conway Walsh and Alan Dillon and Cllrs Michael Kilcoyne and Blackie Gavin.
Cllr Kilcoyne said staffing numbers at the hospital just do not add up. “Mayo University Hospital is understaffed by at least 200 people. Imagine trying to operate anything without 200 staff. It’s beyond comprehension what’s going on here. The nurses are the frontline. They’re the difference between life and death in many cases, and they’re been driven into the ground. We cannot allow it to happen.”
He was supported by Cllr Gavin, who wondered if anyone in power actually cared whether the nurses were protesting or not.
“It’s sad to see these nurses out protesting for better facilities and increased staff. What is Ireland coming to? The sad thing is the management don’t seem to care. They’ve ignored the protest; they’re ignoring their own people. They don’t want to know.
“This is disgraceful. We were promised an extension to the A&E back in 2014 and now the Government are telling us not to expect it until 2025. Do they think the people of Mayo are fools?”
Deputy Conway Walsh said the nurses in MUH could not wait until January for a boost in staffing numbers. She stated immediate action was required to support the nurses in Castlebar.
“This needs to be sorted within days. We’re speaking about patients’ lives here and we’re speaking about overworked staff at the end of their tether. They cannot continue to work in such appalling circumstances, but there’s no accountability, nobody who takes responsibility for the staffing levels in here in Mayo University Hospital or indeed, nationwide.
“Our nursing staff are being treated abysmally and they urgently need proper employment contracts and proper support from the HSE.”
The Mayo News understands talks between the INMO and Saolta will take place at the Workplace Commission Conciliation Service later this week.