Nurses ‘forced to rely on food banks over rising cost of living’

“Nurses are not immune to food poverty,” Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has been warned as it emerged that at least six nursing staff are having to rely on food banks to feed their families.

“This is shocking in 2022,” said Nick Schnackenberg, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization Executive Council member, who tabled an emergency motion on the issue at Friday’s INMO conference.

The motion called on the Government to factor in the cost of living, the accommodation crisis, implement a countrywide rent freeze and start a ‘Bring Them Home’ campaign to entice nurses home from abroad.

“As a nurse who lives in the Midlands, I can tell you that nurses are not immune to food poverty,” he told the minister, who sat among delegates listening to the debate on the closing day of the conference in Sligo.

We don’t have the option to work from home. I have colleagues who are forced to take leave as they cannot afford to buy food to make their kids’ lunch for school and also pay to travel to work and pay outrageous car parking fees.”

“It is 2022, nurses and midwives have proved our worth. As part of public pay talks scheduled to begin next week, we need Government to bring some relief to our nurses and midwives,” he said.

“Over the past three days, we have heard about the pressure we are all under in our workplaces but we are not just feeling the pressure in the workplace. The cost of just getting to work, especially for those that work in the community, is spiralling,” he said.

“Our members, as frontline workers who spend most of their income in providing day-to-day essentials for themselves and their families, must not be left to the ravages of inflation,” he added.

He said nurses were also affected by house prices, which had spiralled “out of control” and were being “hammered by steep rises in fuel costs”.

No disposable income

Mr Schnackenberg was supported by Galway nurse Sean Shaughnessy, who told delegates he had colleagues who had no disposable income left for any sort of an emergency. Mr Shaughnessy said many nurses, including himself, were struggling five days out from pay day. “That’s the reality, that is real,” he said, to thunderous applause.

He also said the housing crisis was affecting nurses. He gave the example of a young widow nurse with two children who was “dumped” by her landlord and is currently trying to find a new home.

She can’t afford the extraordinary rents nor can she get herself on a decent housing list. She is struggling. She is weeks out from no home and no bed for herself and her two kids.

“So minister, take that message back and understand that our healthcare workers are struggling to live, never mind work,” he said to loud applause.

Responding, the minister told reporters that “we need to act, our healthcare staff need to be able to live, they need to be able to do their job”.

“We’re facing an unprecedented pressure in inflation because of the war on Ukraine, costs are going up,” he said.

He added that in terms of healthcare, his department was “trying to do our bit” by reducing costs such as the reduction of the ceiling for the Drugs Payment Scheme from €114 to €80, bringing in free GP care for six and seven- year-olds and free contraception for women aged 17-25 years.

“The unions have stated that they want the pay talks which are due at the end of this year to come forward and we’ve heard Phil Ní Sheaghdha, INMO general secretary, say today that they’ve been invited in next week, so this really is the Government trying to listen very carefully and respond to the very real pressures people are facing,” he said.

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