Irish nurses – Overworked, Underpaid and Emigrating

By James Hagan

RTÉ News reported that conditions are getting so dire, a transplant surgery had to be cancelled this month in the Mater due to a lack of ICU beds. (Image via William Murphy, Flickr)

Irish nurses have been on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, but overloaded work schedules, unsafe work environments and miniscule pay has left nurses going abroad for fairer treatment. 

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, both training and career nurses in the Irish health service faced a high workload and low wages, and since then these conditions have worsened. 

RTÉ News reported mid-November that physical and emotional assaults was on the rise in Emergency Departments nationwide. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) have asked the HSE to initiate a security review as more cases of physical and verbal abuse come to light. 

Paul Reid, HSE Chief executive, has since said if security in hospitals needs to improve, that the HSE will provide, yet no official plans have been made yet. 

The INMO have also heard about concerns of a lack of adequate breaks during shifts and the use of annual to alleviate work overload. Despite staff and union outcry, conditions remain the same. 

The Irish Independent reports that a spokesperson for the Saolta Universal Healthcare Group, a group established by the HSE, “regret” the pressures their hospital’s staff are facing but assures that hospital groups are recruiting nationally and internationally to reduce staff workload. 

Recent protests held at both Leinster House and Mayo University Hospital since the beginning of November have highlighted issues that have been campaigned about for years by nurses’ advocacy groups and unions, yet remain unresolved.

The City spoke to Irish-based nurses about their current experience in nursing in Ireland. Nurse’s names have been changed for employee confidentiality. 

When asked about their thoughts on nurse’s wages, Bea, a student nurse in the Mater Hospital, explained that student nurses aren’t paid. “We’re not paid as student until we get an internship, which then is only minimum wage” she said. “Staff are overworked and underpaid. Staff shortages causes a major strain on the system. This makes it dangerous for nurses and for patients.” 

Jay, who works as a clinical research nurse in the Dublin Neurological Institute, said his current role is the best work environment he’s been in. Yet he had to leave tertiary hospital work from getting burnt out. 

“Being in such a high-pressure environment brought out a lot of toxicity in the people. There were always issues with management’s treatment of staff. Patient to nurse ratios were at times unsafe. It put an enormous amount of stress on the nurses to ensure patient safety in unsafe environments.”

The INMO was unavailable for comment.

Some nurses have decided to emigrate in order to find better work environments. The City spoke to Irish-trained nurses Louise, Isabelle and Lydia, about life as a nurse in Australia compared to Ireland. 

The City: How has career nursing been since moving to Australia?

Louise, who has been working in Australia for 2 months, says the differences between nursing work environments is obvious, and Australia offers a higher quality of life. 

“The pay is double what I got at home for far less responsibility, and I never worry about coming in the next day. We’re given company cars with petrol and tolls paid for. The opportunities to explore different specialities are far broader; there is much less red tape involved” she said. 

Lydia, who has been trained in nursing for 5 years, says the work is more efficient and conditions are better. 

“Plenty of staff are available, shifts are only 8 hours and are more manageable this way. I feel much safer in my environment and don’t dread going into work at all, at least yet anyway!”

The City also asked the nurses about the effectiveness of nurses’ right advocacy groups, protests and marches in aiding their work conditions. 

Bea, Mater Hospital: “In a way, yes. There was a strike for payment to students working during the pandemic, but overall, I feel they’ve not had much impact.”

Jay, DNI: “I think demonstrations and unions have a function to help fight for nurses’ rights. It’s a great way to show solidarity. Personally, I think that for substantial changes to be made, we need representatives in spaces where decisions about healthcare delivery and legislation are being made.”

Isabelle, Australia: “Advocacy groups are beneficial for support in your work life. However, any protest or strike I have been a part of has felt unnoticed.”

Louise, Australia: “I think they’re a good place for nurses to support each other and realize we are not alone. Yet (all nurses) can’t all out strike at once – if we do, people will die. None of us want patients to suffer any further and we couldn’t do it knowing avoidable deaths occur.”

Lydia, Australia: “They can be very effective yet nursing agencies don’t hold out long enough to achieve results. I feel like they chicken out if a strike is going on too long or before a strike starts and then we don’t see the results we want. While the government has announced the continuation of student nurses’ pandemic payment plan, along with a 12.5% annual raise in 4th-year nursing internships, demonstrations continue to occur in protest of work environments and may continue to drive nurses abroad for more accommodating careers.”

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