Housing a factor in nurse shortage at Dublin child mental health facility, HSE says

Eleven beds temporarily closed at Linn Dara mental health unit last month due to staffing shortage

The cost and availability of accommodation is a contributing factor to the nursing shortage that resulted in the temporary closure of beds at a Dublin children’s mental health service, politicians have been told.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) last month confirmed it temporarily closed 11 of the 24 beds at the Linn Dara child and adolescent mental health unit in west Dublin due to a nursing shortage. The beds are expected to remain closed until at least September.

It is the second time the facility has had to close down beds due to staffing issues, with the last closure occurring in 2017.

Speaking at a meeting of the Oireachtas sub-committee on mental health on Tuesday, Mary O’Kelly, interim chief officer of the HSE’s Dublin South, Kildare and West Wicklow Community Healthcare Organisation, said the service is “down to the wire” to recruit the required number of nurses to reopen these beds by the desired date.

There are currently 27 vacancies out of a total complement of 51 nurses, she said. An additional €950,000 was allocated to the service for recruitment this year.

“Because we’re in the Dublin area, we’re at a disadvantage with regard to people not being able to rent in the area, afford mortgages in the area and travelling long hours, which they cannot commit to in a long-term basis. We’re really at a geographical disadvantage with house prices such as they are, and the lack of availability as well as prices,” she said.

”We haven’t ever achieved full recruitment of the 50-plus posts. The recruitment has become particularly difficult in a very short time period, due to a number of factors. We were at a place where we could not, unless we took this action, guarantee safe, quality care.”

Jim Ryan, the HSE head of operations at the national mental health service, said: “In the west of Ireland, we tend to find it easier to recruit staff nurses.”

Separately, Prof Brendan Doody, clinical director of Linn Dara, said there has been a “huge increase” in the number of young people presenting with eating disorders in recent years.

In 2019, the specialist community eating disorder team had 49 referrals. In 2021, it had 197. The age profile of those presenting with eating disorders is also getting younger, Prof Doody said, with about 15 per cent now being children aged 13 or younger.

“We have seen over the last number of years a trend upwards of people presenting with eating disorders and presenting it at a younger age. But we also noted that the pandemic kind of accelerated this increase,” he said.

“We most definitely saw a Covid impact. We saw an increase in a range of disorders, particularly anxiety type disorders.”

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times