Nurses and midwives are set to go on strike for 24 hours on January 30, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has announced.
Last month, 95% of INMO members voted in favour of strike action due to an ongoing dispute over staff shortages and poor pay. If this dispute continues, there will be further 24-hour strikes on February 5, 7, 12, 13 and 14.
During these times, nurses and midwives will withdraw their labour, providing only lifesaving care and emergency response teams.
The INMO insisted that the HSE has been unable to recruit and retain enough nurses and midwives on current wages. The number of staff nurses fell by 6% (1,754) between 2008 and 2018, while health services experienced an increase in demand.
This will be only the second time that INMO members have gone on strike in the organisation's 100-year history. The last strike was in 1999.
Commenting on the dispute, INMO general secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, insisted that going on strike ‘is the last thing a nurse or midwife wants to do'.
"However the crisis in recruitment and retention has made it impossible for us to do our jobs properly. We are not able give patients the care they deserve under these conditions.
"The HSE simply cannot recruit enough nurses and midwives on these wages. Until that changes, the health service will continue to go understaffed and patient care will be compromised," she said.
The organisation pointed out that it is legally required to provide one week's notice of official strike action, however it has given three weeks 'to allow for safety planning'.
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said that this strike can be averted and ‘the ball is in the Government's court'.
"All it takes is for the Government to acknowledge our concerns, engage with us directly, and work to resolve this issue in a proactive manner.
"We were due to meet with the Government in the national oversight body in December, but the meeting was cancelled. Like many patients in Ireland's health service, we are still waiting for an appointment," she added.
Meanwhile, according to INMO president, Martina Harkin-Kelly, nurses and midwives are now ‘globally traded assets', which the public health service can no longer recruit because it does not pay a competitive wage.
"We entered these professions because we care for our patients. We'll be going on strike for the exact same reason. Ireland's patients deserve better than this understaffed health service," she said.
Responding to the news, the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, said he does not believe that industrial action is warranted. Health sector management is to invite the INMO to meet next week in an effort to avert the strike, he added.