HSE's €600 million Winter Plan won't work without extra staffing, warn nurses union

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HSE's €600 million Winter Plan won't work without extra staffing, warn nurses union

The HSE’s Winter Plan will “simply not work” without extra nursing and midwifery staffing, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation warned this Thursday.

The union welcomed additional funding and planned bed capacity increases, but cautioned that any extra capacity requires extra staffing.

The HSE’s Winter Plan contains a variety of targets, but does not set out how many extra staff will be hired to achieve them.

The INMO has been seeking a funded nursing and midwifery workforce plan from the HSE since January and has referred the lack of engagement on the matter to the Workplace Relations Commission.

The union points to an already-strained workforce, which has worsened due to staff on sick leave or in self isolation due to Covid-19 infections. The Ireland East group, for example, currently has 400 nursing vacancies unfilled over its 12 hospitals.

“Without a plan for extra staffing, the Winter Plan will simply not work. Extra hospital beds are much needed, but they are meaningless and dangerous if not properly staffed and resourced," said INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha. 

“For months now, we have sought a funded workforce plan from the HSE, setting out how many nurses and midwives they intend to hire in the health service. We are still awaiting any engagement – something we have referred to the WRC as a dispute.

“This Winter Plan brings welcome investment, but absolutely zero clarity on how we will recruit and retain the staff to provide care.

“The HSE says it will take a zero-tolerance approach to overcrowding, yet trolley figures continue to grow," Ms Ní Sheaghdha added. 

INMO president Martina Harkin-Kelly said its members will be "scratching their heads" over the lack of staffing detail in the Winter Plan. "How can we set a target for extra beds without saying how many extra staff will be hired," she questioned. 

“Before the election, political parties committed to specific numbers of extra nurses and midwives. Nurses and midwives are seeing their numbers depleted due to Covid infection, self-isolation and childcare, yet there are no clear staffing commitments in today’s plan.”

€600 million HSE Winter Plan

The €600 million Winter Plan will be used to support the roll-out of winter specific measures including:

  • Additional community healthcare networks and community specialist teams (older persons and chronic disease)
  • Additional intermediate care beds
  • Additional access to diagnostics for GPs
  • Additional acute bed capacity
  • Additional home support packages
  • Additional private bed capacity.

"This winter is expected to be particularly challenging due to the global Covid-19 pandemic," said Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

"The Government’s determination to meet this challenge is demonstrated by our decision to invest an additional €600 million in health services this winter. Our healthcare workers have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic, and this investment will support them as they care for their patients, both those that have Covid-19 and those that have other health needs.

"We are in unprecedented times and the large amount of funding allocated by the Government this year reflects that. I am glad to see the HSE commitment to reducing the number of patients on hospital trolleys as well as an increase in the number of beds.

"But, as we know, healthcare is not just about care in hospital settings. This Winter Plan aims to enable patients to be seen more easily in the community setting when possible. Some €138 million of the Winter Plan funding is being invested in home care and home supports this winter, with an additional 4.7 million extra home care hours.”

Minister Donnelly welcomed the additional supports in the Winter Plan for people at greater risk including older people, those who are homeless and those with chronic illnesses. 

“The roll-out of community specialist teams to support older people and those with chronic disease is hugely positive. These teams will help them to stay at home or, if they need hospital care, to get home more quickly afterwards.

"The plan also gives GPs better access to diagnostics, which will have a positive impact by reducing waiting times for patients and reducing demand in our emergency departments," Minister Donnelly added.