SIPTU has called for more health care assistants to be recruited in order to alleviate the overcrowding crisis in hospitals. 

Yesterday the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation announced that its emergency department nurses will go on strike on 15 December over staff shortages and under resourcing - with further stoppages due in the new year if their demands for more resources are not met. 

SIPTU Health Division Organiser Paul Bell said the immediate deployment of 800 more health care assistants - along with the introduction of operating theatre assistants to assist surgeons with routine surgical procedures - could have a very positive impact on hospital waiting times and patient care. 

Mr Bell said this could reduce the staff-to-patient ratio in hospitals, and cut what he called the "exorbitant" costs of hiring temporary agency staff, which has cost over €27m so far this year. 
 
Yesterday the HSE said that "skill mix" - or transferring certain skills to other grades - was among the measures being considered to reduce the pressure in emergency departments. 

However, INMO General Secretary Liam Doran described the issue of operating theatre assistants as a "red herring".

He said that if the 250 staff nurse vacancies in theatres were filled, they might be able to talk about theatre assistants.  

He accused the HSE of engaging in a ploy by saying it cannot recruit nurses, so it would recruit other lower skilled staff and that would make things better. 

Mr Bell urged Minister for Health Leo Varadkar and the HSE to immediately commence dialogue on increasing the number and roles of HCAs.