DYING CANCER PATIENTS, students and Fine Gael voters were among those who wrote to Leo Varadkar to express support for nurses during last month’s strike.
Correspondence to the Taoiseach’s office seen by TheJournal.ie reveals some extent of the public support for the nurses during the industrial dispute.
Members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) went on general strike for a number of days in February, protesting against what they felt was a recruitment and retention crisis in the sector.
The government initially refused to accept the unions’ demands for wage increases for nurses, before the Labour Court intervened to avert further strikes on 11 February.
The INMO suspended further plans to strike over three days last month ahead of negotiations with the government on a new contract for nurses.
However, those talks were referred back to the Labour Court this week, when the INMO branded the government’s proposals “deeply disappointing”.
The union’s executive council is expected to meet again later this month to discuss the issue further.
During the strike, a number of individuals wrote to Varadkar to question why nurses were not being given a pay rise despite politicians receiving their own boost under the Public Service Stability Agreement.
“Stop giving yourself and your fellow members pay increases, then we wouldn’t have a threat of a strike by our nurses,” one person wrote.
Another asked if the Taoiseach had considered how hospitals would function without nurses, saying that Varadkar’s “dismissive attitude” showed that he had not grasped the situation.
“It appears that this reality has not registered with you… I can assure you Taoiseach, the public is not impressed,” they said.
One Fine Gael voter hit out at the Taoiseach for suggesting that nurses should not be allowed to take Christmas holidays in the first week of the year, claiming that it was the government’s fault that the health service was not functioning properly.
“This strike could have been avoided…” they wrote.
We are a first world country with a third world health care service and that’s not because of the nurse’s [sic], it’s because of the inability of the government and the HSE, to run the service.
‘No harder job’
A dying cancer patient also blamed Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris for the “biggest failures” of the health service.
Saying it might be their final opportunity to write to the Taoiseach, the individual praised the work that they had seen nurses do during their time in hospital.
“I see first hand the work nurses have to do,” they wrote.
“They are quite literally run off their feet. I’ve seen nurses miss out on breaks because a patient is dying or because there are a lot of admissions.
I’ve seen nurses get attacked verbally. I’ve seen nurses being punched and slapped. I’ve witnessed nurses resuscitate people. To literally bring them back from death and I’ve seen nurses hold the hands of dying patients with pure love for them.
“I’ve witnessed stress like I’ve never seen before as nurses do their best to keep the health service afloat. There is no harder job on this planet than nursing, in my opinion.”
The individual claimed that Harris and Varadkar “looked down” on nurses and said it was a “disgrace” that the Government did not hire more to cover wards.
“I’m now terminally ill,” they continued.
“I’m dying. I don’t have long left in this world but I want to thank every nurse in this country who care for people who are sick and people like myself who are reaching the end of the road. Throughout my illness, you’ve been there.”
Nurses themselves also wrote to the Taoiseach to complain about the Government’s stance during last month’s dispute.
One accused the Government of trying to make nurses “public enemy number one” during the strike.
“The government spin on how much nurses earn is ridiculous,” they wrote.
I struggle every month to pay my mortgage, credit union, car, electricity, oil, phone bill and food shop – excluding all the extras of kids and sports.
“I earned more as a student… than I do now as a nurse.”
Another told the Taoiseach that his comments about the dispute were “flippant, repetitive and archaic”, while another called Varadkar and his Cabinet colleagues “bullies”.
“I’ve worked in the most dangerous, understaffed conditions imaginable,” they wrote.
“I have cried more times in that job than I care to admit, I have gone home after a shift and had sleep paralysis dreaming about my patients… I demand you explain why I’m not worth it.”
Two local authorities – Sligo County Council and Galway County Council – also wrote to the office of the Taoiseach, after passing motions in support of the nurses at their monthly meetings.
All correspondence was released to TheJournal.ie under the Freedom of Information Act.