inmoKilkenny is the location for the three-day annual delegate conference of the Irish Nurses and Midwives’ Organisation this week.

It’s the INMO’s 95th conference.

The union has over 40,000 members and around 360 delegates will be at this meeting, representing union members around the country. 

The big topics are minimum staffing levels, Emergency Department overcrowding and retaining new nursing graduates, given pay reductions.

The union continues to clash with health officials over the precise level of hospital overcrowding, in particular, the inclusion of its ‘Ward Watch’ figures on patients moved to extra beds on wards from Emergency Departments but awaiting admission.

In the area of midwifery, a recent INMO survey found a shortfall of 621 midwives at 19 hospital maternity units, based on international comparisons.

Nurses warn that this is an unsafe situation and it comes against the backdrop of recent tragedies in maternity care over the past year.

The union will be calling for minimum and mandatory staffing levels and will be publishing a summary of international research on the impact of poor staffing levels.

The INMO says that since 2009, over 5,000 nursing and midwifery posts have gone, with the recruitment embargo last year resulting in 850 posts being lost.

Nurses claim that cutbacks in healthcare have gone down to the bone and this conference will focus heavily on safe staffing and safe care.

The other battleground ahead will be nurses seeking to restore their 37.5-hour working week, once the Haddington Road Agreement expires.

Restoration of rights and entitlements lost during the economic crisis is a common theme now among all health unions.

Minister for Health, James Reilly could not make the recent annual conference of the Irish Medical Organisation but he is coming to talk to the nurses on Friday afternoon.

Some of his predecessors had rather bruising encounters with nurses at past annual conferences but the atmosphere should be pleasant enough for Dr Reilly this year, despite the testing environment under which nurses and midwives have to work.

He pleased them last October with the filling of the Chief Nursing Officer post at the Department of Health, ensuring that the role of nursing and midwifery is represented at the highest level in terms of policy making for the health service.

Dr Siobhan O’Halloran, the holder of the post, will give a keynote address on Wednesday when the conference opens.

Liam Doran, the General Secretary of the INMO, is one of the longest serving union leaders in the country.

He took on the top job in October 1998 and is a very familiar face to the public.

He may have an extra step in his stride over the next few days, given that the conference is being held in his home county, which took the hurling league title at the weekend.

It’s something that he is unlikely to keep out of his speeches over the three days.

Doran trained as a general nurse and registered nurse in intellectual disability, but he could just as easily have been a professional golfer, having spent two years in that game.

He remains a cracking player, with a handicap of one, and has managed to steer nurses and midwives through some major strikes.

Hotel Kilkenny will be a lively place during this conference.

There are many male nurses in the INMO, however the majority are female, and so this is reflected in the representation at the conference, giving it a unique atmosphere.

These meetings are also very social affairs where stories are shared, away from the battleground of the hospital ward.

The table quiz night on Wednesday, with questions set by the quiz maestro, deputy General Secretary Dave Hughes, is legendary.

It would be no surprise if the first question is: who won this year’s hurling league?

Fergal Bowers will be reporting from the INMO conference from Wednesday to Friday.