Psychiatric nurses protest over ‘dangerous’ staffing levels in the west

Patient and staff safety at risk, union warns

Des Kavanagh,  general secretary of the Psychiatric Nurses’ Association. Photograph: Eric Luke

Des Kavanagh, general secretary of the Psychiatric Nurses’ Association. Photograph: Eric Luke

Fri, Jul 4, 2014, 01:00

Psychiatric nurses in the west have warned of industrial action over staff shortages that they describe as jeopardising safety of staff and patients.

HSE West officials were yesterday meeting representatives of the Psychiatric Nurses’ Association (PNA), following a lunchtime protest by up to 50 association members outside University Hospital Galway.

There is a daily shortage of between four and five nurses at the Galway psychiatric unit and staff cannot cope with the number of admissions, PNA general secretary Des Kavanagh said at the picket.

“We don’t have the community teams, we don’t have the psychiatric intensive-care units and the predominant locus of service is actually based in the acute unit with not enough service in the community to support it”, Mr Kavanagh said, describing it as “dangerous”.

Three nurses were attacked by a patient in Donegal recently, he said, and all three had been injured – with one “seriously traumatised” by the experience.

‘Extraordinary’

He described as “extraordinary” the absence of a secure ward at the psychiatric unit in University Hospital Galway, and said there was no such intensive care rehabilitation unit from Donegal to Limerick and Clare – with the earliest planned being 2017.

Admissions for last year showed the number of patients detained against their will in Galway was five times the national average, according to the PNA.

“It’s around 11 per cent nationally, but it’s around 50 per cent in Galway,” he said, which also raised “significant questions”.

Mr Kavanagh dismissed assurances given by the HSE about the availability of overtime for nurses and agency staff. “The HSE have said they are doing their best and have given approval for agency staff and for overtime,” he said.

“There are no people available to do the overtime because they are exhausted and the agencies are telling us they don’t have staff to provide agency cover.”

Mr Kavanagh said that a ballot for industrial action would start early next week if there was no agreement yesterday evening with HSE officials.

‘Lovely assurances’

“We have had all the promises and heard all these lovely assurances and the ideals of a wonderful new mental health service – it’s not there.

“We have problems all over the country and we are saying that they have got to start putting resources into mental health so that we have a decent service for the public,” Mr Kavanagh said.