SIPTU criticises Galway University Hospital’s failure to fully utilise Health Care Assistants

SIPTU representatives have criticised the management of Galway University Hospital for its failure to fully utilise Health Care Assistants (HCAs) in the provision of direct patient care in its temporary emergency department during a period of intense pressure in the facility.

SIPTU Organiser, Yvonne McGrath, said: “Our HCA members are ready, willing and able to use their skills to provide direct patient care. They feel frustrated that their expertise and skillset is not being recognised and utilised to maximum effect in order to assist with patient care within the emergency department and broader hospital.

“SIPTU representatives and hospital management had engaged under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission, on 20th July last year, concerning issues related to the role of HCAs. On that occasion it was agreed that HCAs should no longer be carrying out certain functions, that were inappropriate to their role, within the emergency department and that support services staff would be used to carry out these functions.

“Since then, there has been no agreement on how hospital support staff will be engaged to support HCAs in their work. SIPTU representatives have now referred this matter back to the WRC. However, hospital management is yet to confirm it will attend a further WRC convened meeting.”

She added: “Unfortunately, the management of Galway University Hospital is not engaging with our union with any degree of urgency to resolve this matter. Our members are ready, willing and able to use their skills to provide direct patient care with the support of their colleagues in support services.”

SIPTU member and HCA at Galway University Hospital, Martina Burke, said: “HCAs and all staff are under significant pressure in the emergency department. However, their problems pale in comparison to those of patients who in many incidences are waiting for hours for treatment. We are willing to sit down with management to try and resolve the issues that are adversely impacting staff and patients in the emergency department. However, we need our employer to engage with us and confirm its availability to attend the WRC if these matters cannot be resolved.”

Campaign Update – Valuing Care Valuing Community

Dear Member,

We write to you with an important update regarding the Valuing Care Valuing Community Campaign.

The story so far:
Members will be aware of the history regarding the campaign for pay justice in the Section 39, Community and Voluntary sectors.

Most recently, in July of last year workers in a number of community organisations engaged in strike action in pursuit of decent pay within their sector. This was followed by further action in September 2022 in which thirteen Section 39 agencies and community organisations took part in a day of strike action in pursuit of pay justice.

The actions were deemed to be a success. A number of high-profile public representatives publicly endorsed the campaign and called for a mechanism for addressing pay within the sector. In October, there was support across the Dáil for a Labour Party motion which called for support for the Valuing Care, Valuing Community Campaign. At the time Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, and Minister of State at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Anne Rabbitte spoke in support of a process, under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission, to address the long-standing pay issue within these organisations.

SIPTU supported the call for the use of the WRC and referred the matter for conciliation in October 2022. The Union maintained pressure on all parties to attend the WRC and honour the government’s commitment to resolve this long standing pay dispute through talks. The Union confirmed to employers our members’ willingness to take further action in progression of their claim, if necessary.

Campaign Update:
There was initial resistance by relevant government agencies and departments to attend. However, only this week it was confirmed by the HSE that it would attend talks, bringing us one step closer to resolving the dispute. The Department of Social Protection has confirmed its availability to attend the WRC and an engagement is scheduled for next week.

It is important to note that the relevant parties only agreed to attend the WRC when they realised that our members, with the support of their Union, SIPTU, would accept nothing less than their fight for pay justice to be treated as anything other than a priority.

We understand that a date for talks will be issued shortly and we will endeavour to keep our members updated with regards to any developments on the campaign.

SIPTU will revert to its members in Section 39, Community and Voluntary organisations on possible next steps, if sufficient and timely progress is not made on this claim.

It is important that you speak to your colleagues about the value of being in the Union and join SIPTU as we progress the matter of pay justice in your sector.

In solidarity,

Kevin Figgis
Divisional Organiser
Health Division

Adrian Kane
Divisional Organiser
PAC Division

SIPTU seeks urgent meeting with Minister and HSE on safe staffing levels in CAMHS

SIPTU representatives have written today (Tuesday, 24th January) to the Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, Mary Butler, and the management of the HSE requesting an urgent meeting to discuss safe staffing levels in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

SIPTU Sector Organiser, John McCamley, said: “We welcome the publication of the Interim Report on the Independent Review of the Provision of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in the State by the Inspector of Mental Health Services and that the HSE has accepted its findings. This interim report indicates that there are issues regarding safe staffing within the service that need to be addressed.

“It notes that there is currently no benchmark in place for the safe staffing of child and adolescent mental health services. The report also noted that low staff morale and burnout are issues and that some staff are working above their contracted hours, for no additional compensation, in order to provide therapeutic interventions.”

He added: “SIPTU representatives have recently raised concerns about staffing in CAMHS, particularly in the Cork Kerry Community Healthcare Organisation. It’s clear that a focus now needs to be placed on establishing a safe staffing level for child and adolescent mental health services. In order to progress this issue we have written to the Minister of State and the HSE to seek an urgent meeting to discuss what must be done.”

SIPTU calls on Minister to end pandemic payment delay for non-HSE and Section 38 workers

SIPTU representatives have called for the intervention of the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, to ensure that eligible health workers employed in private employments and Section 39 organisations receive their Pandemic Special Recognition Payment (PSRP) without further delay.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, Pat Flannery, said: “Our members are aware that a limited number of Section 39 agencies have made these payments to their eligible workforce but many have not. It has been reported that more than half of eligible workers who do not fall under the remit of the HSE or Section 38 agencies have yet to receive their payment.

“Agencies that do not fall under the remit of the HSE or Section 38 of the Health Acts received guidance from KOSI Corporation, which has been commissioned by the Government to oversee the process, in November 2022, advising them of the eligibility criteria for the PSRP. The guidance also set out how these organisations could submit a claim for the funding in order to make the payment to their workers.

“The KOSI guidance explained that it was intended that funds would be made available to these organisations to pay the PSRP by the end of November 2022, as long they submitted accurate claim forms by 11th November of that month.

“These workers put their shoulder to the wheel and provided essential care during the darkest days of the pandemic. The services they provided included care to the vulnerable in the intellectual disability sector, care to our elderly in communities around the country and nursing home care.”

He added: “The fact that these workers have been kept waiting for payment of PSRP is unacceptable. We are calling for the Minister of Health to intervene and make sure that funds are released to make these payments. Workers in these essential services cannot be expected to wait any longer. The PSRP was announced by the Government in January 2022. Surely it is time for all the workers eligible for this payment to receive it as some form of recognition for the work they did to protect our society and communities at great personal risk.”

SIPTU raises serious concerns regarding staffing in CAMHS unit in Blackrock in Cork

SIPTU representatives have written to the management of the Eist Linn Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) inpatient unit regarding serious staffing issues at its facility in Bessborough, Blackrock, county Cork.

SIPTU Organiser, Natasha Linehan Treacy, said: “In the letter to management sent on Friday, 13th January, we note that four nursing staff have notified management of their intent to leave the service. When existing vacancies within the service are taken into consideration, that means there will be 11 whole time equivalent nursing vacancies within the Eist Linn inpatient unit.

“The current level of nursing vacancies within the Eist Linn inpatient unit is intolerable and is leading to heavy dependence on agency staff and the use of overtime within the unit. We have written to management to seek an urgent meeting on this issue. A comprehensive plan on how it is intended that management will address the level of nursing vacancies in the immediate term is essential.”

She added: “It is unacceptable for all our members in the unit that they are attempting to deliver a service with only 58% of nursing posts filled. This situation also speaks to broader staffing issues across the CAMHS service.”

SIPTU’s Ambulance Sector Expresses Solidarity with striking NHS ambulance crews

SIPTU’s Ambulance Sector has expressed solidary with NHS ambulance crews who are on strike today (January 11th) in the United Kingdom after talks failed to address GMB members’ concerns regarding pay.

SIPTU’s Sector Organiser for the Ambulance Sector, Ted Kenny, wrote to GMB Union Public Services National Secretary, Rachel Harrison, to advise that “we stand beside you all in your fight for an enhanced pay offer and wish you all the very best in achieving that goal.”

The letter follows a statement made by SIPTU on the challenges being faced by ambulance crews throughout the National Ambulance Service on Saturday the 7th of January. You can read that full statement here.

SIPTU says National Ambulance Service crisis has paramedics at ‘breaking point’

SIPTU representatives have raised concerns about the challenges facing its members employed in the National Ambulance Service (NAS) due to an increase in demand for its services that has pushed many paramedics to “breaking point”.

SIPTU Sector Organiser, Ted Kenny, said: “The upsurge in demand on the NAS is pushing many of its paramedics to breaking point. The increased numbers attending Accident and Emergency Departments across the country has severely impacted turn-around times, with crews having to wait hours on end to hand over their patients.

“Some paramedics have reported working several hours beyond the end of their 12-hour shifts which is leading to burnout. In addition to this, they are now being requested to work additional hours to assist with the current upsurge of activity being reported across the health service.

“SIPTU representatives have been engaging with the management of the NAS on a number of outstanding issues at the organisation including the implementation of an Independent Review of Roles and Responsibilities Report, staffing concerns and the appropriate funding of the service.

“The NAS has been under funded for years and needs at least an extra 2000 staff along with 120 new ambulances to provide the level of service that is now needed.

“The Independent Review of Roles and Responsibilities Report was jointly commissioned by the NAS, SIPTU and the HSE in 2018. The report made several recommendations to address recruitment and retention issues within the service, to identify career pathways for staff and to update the roles and responsibilities of all grades within the service. To date, the recommendations of the report has not been implemented.”

He added: “An appropriately staffed and funded NAS that can retain its dedicated workforce, would be of huge benefit to the communities it serves as well as the acute hospital sector which has seen a huge increase in activity in recent weeks.

“We are calling on the Minister of Health, Stephen Donnelly, to intervene to ensure the recommendations of the Independent Review of Roles and Responsibilities Report are implemented as a matter of urgency.”

Update: Health Service Upsurge in Activity January 2023

SIPTU met with HSE Management this week to further discuss the situation regarding the increase in activity in the country’s acute hospitals. Below is a summary of that meeting.

The HSE provided the following update to the meeting:

• Attendance at ED is considerably higher than the same timeframe in 2022. (10,500 additional presentations)
• Highest ever recorded attendance of 75+ years patients.
• Influenza cases continue to rise
• RSV cases are evidencing a decrease
• COVID cases are steady

• The HSE acknowledged the work being undertaken by staff in all grades of the health service during this difficult period.
• The meeting was advised the National Crisis Management Team is meeting every week and local reviews are ongoing daily.
• The HSE accepted additional capacity is required in the private sector & community care.
• They advised they are engaging on a national agreement with private hospital representatives, but this has not been concluded. They stated funding has been made available.
• The meeting was informed of transfers being undertaken of medical patients to private healthcare.
• Site visits are ongoing across the country.
• They are seeking to increase resourcing over 24hrs and weekend service is being looked at.

In response, SIPTU and fellow health unions outlined the following:

• We stated it was unacceptable that many sites had failed to have any local engagement with union representatives on proposed changes to service provision.
• We advised we could not accept forced outcomes which sought to dismantle existing terms and conditions of employment of our members.
• Any proposal should come from local consultation and agreement with our membership & their representatives.
• We had sought a document from the HSE outlining the challenges and the perceived solutions. This was still awaited.
• We sought clarity what supports would be put in place for healthcare workers during this crisis, both those in work and those who have taken ill due to a workplace sourced infection.
• We asked for clarity on the arrangement with the private sector. What level of additional bed capacity, and where, is expected to come from that agreement? What level of additional support has been sought for the National Ambulance Service and diagnostic services?

The HSE confirmed:

• They are seeking to develop a document which will be shared with the unions.
• A management meeting was happening this evening to respond to the union call for supports for healthcare workers during this crisis. Further clarification would issue on this shortly we were advised.
• There would be no ‘ripping up’ of existing agreements with unions. Any proposal would have to recognise existing agreements. Local dialogue was key and would be supported at national level by the HSE.
• Agreement with private sector is not finalised. Local sites are required to identify what they need.
• Management accepted demands could not be made of staff. While a request may be made, subject to the agreed terms, acceptance would be on a voluntary basis only.
• Management also accepted any proposal for change to provide weekend cover could not simply be achieved by moving existing 5 day staff across a 7 day pattern.
• Management stated they had not received a request internally for additional capacity from the private sector for diagnostics.

The meeting adjourned and management agreed to revert on several key points asap. This includes:

• Provision of a composite document
• Clarity on the supports which will be provided to staff during this phase.

A further meeting was proposed for early next week. The date and time for this meeting is to be confirmed.

SIPTU to meet with HSE to discuss difficulties faced by the acute sector

SIPTU and ICTU Health unions are to meet the HSE later this week to discuss the upsurge in activity faced by the acute sector. It follows a a meeting which took place on December 30th to discuss the situation.

At that meeting, management advised of the following:

• Different issues and pressures are presenting on sites across the country.
• The current challenge is not only prevalent to emergency departments and is being experienced across all areas of the acute system.
• There is significant absence of healthcare workers being recorded due to illness.
• The current level of activity within the acute system has not been experienced since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020.
• The level of flu symptoms presenting have not spiked and are continuing to climb. This is causing a significant level of concern.
• The meeting was told members of the National Crisis Management Team (NCMT) are visiting all acute sites across the country. This is an ongoing situation.
• NCMT is engaging with all sites and advising them to use whatever means are deemed necessary to address the upsurge.
• Solutions are being identified locally as they will be different depending on the challenges arising.
• Management stated they have been planning for winter 2022/2023 for a considerable period but the current patterns are presenting a sudden surge with no ending in sight.
• Discharges are being prioritised.
• This is an exceptional influenza season. Due to post covid, flu was very low in the last two years. The season normally peaks at week 4. This is now week 7 and is still climbing.
• Cases of RSV (in children of 5 years and younger) appear to be falling.
• No new COVID variant has been identified.

In response, SIPTU requested the following:

1) A composite document from the HSE which outlines all the challenges presenting across the country, the local solutions identified to address them and confirmation they will be supported with necessary funding. The HSE stated they would seek to have a document prepared for the unions and this would be shared at the next meeting.
2) Confirmation from the HSE of what protections and supports they will put in place for healthcare workers themselves who are striving to provide care to their patients in this extremely difficult period. The HSE stated this would be considered and they would seek to respond next week.
3) Clarification regarding the use of additional capacity within private hospitals. We were advised additional capacity within private hospitals has been secured across the country. Th Union understands this includes additional capacity within the private hospitals we organise within. The meeting was advised the specific use of additional capacity within private hospitals will depend on what is available and the local needs arising. The exact arrangements will be agreed at local level.
4) Clarification if additional capacity is being utilised by the National Ambulance Service (NAS). The meeting was advised NAS already has arrangements for the use of private or voluntary ambulance services. SIPTU requested specific information relating to what additional capacity is currently being used by the NAS to address the upsurge in activity. The Union was advised this would be sought from the NAS and presented at a further meeting.
5) Management stated additional capacity within diagnostics is a central element of the plan to address the current challenge arising. SIPTU requested clarification of what specific provisions are being made available for additional diagnostics capacity.

SIPTU will endeavour to keep members updated on the outcome of the next meeting.

SIPTU Nursing and Midwifery Sector Welcomes Government approval of additional supports for Student Nurses and Midwives

SIPTU’s Nursing and Midwifery Sector has today (December 13th 2022) welcomed an announcement from Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, that it is his intention to provide additional supports for student nurses and midwives to the value of €9m.

In November 2021, the Minister published the Longer-Term Review of Matters Relating to Student Nurses and Midwives (McHugh Report). The review, carried out by Mr. Seán McHugh, made a number of recommendations that would enhance the pay and conditions of student nurses and midwives. Today, Minister Donnelly announced government approval for funding the following, in line with the recommendations in the McHugh report:

1) An enhanced Travel and Subsistence Scheme for student nurses and midwives in years 1 to 3 of their studies will see each receive €500 per year as a targeted measure to contribute towards meeting the extra costs of meals associated with practice placements outside the student’s core placement site.
2) A new rate of €80 for overnight accommodation is being introduced, along with an increased weekly cap of €300, for those students who require accommodation away from their normal place of residence while attending practice placements. This weekly cap is three times the cap introduced on 1st January 2022, and almost six times the previous cap.
3) Student nurses and midwives can also avail of, on a vouched basis, the reasonable cost of uniform laundry services during periods of overnight accommodation.
4) Pay will be re-instated at 80% of first year staff nurse/midwife pay scale, for internship students.
5) Two additional uniforms for student nurses and midwives at the start of their internship.

Speaking after the announcement, SIPTU Sector Organiser, John McCamley said “The announcement of government approval for funding to implement these elements of the McHugh report is welcomed. It follows a long-fought campaign by our members to address some of the financial hardships faced by student nurses and midwives during their placements; and we are hopeful that it will go some way towards encouraging people into the profession.”

“The Union will now be engaging with the Department of Health to ensure that these measures will be implemented without delay, now funding has been approved.”