Ballydowd special care unit tackles staff crisis by recruiting abroad


A successful recruitment campaign for staff for the special-care unit for disturbed children at Ballydowd, Dublin, has been conducted in Finland and Canada, the High Court heard yesterday. As a result, up to half of the staff at Ballydowd will be non-Irish.

Because of difficulties in recruiting staff, only one of Ballydowd's three eight-bed units is operational. However, with the recruitment of 14 more staff from Ireland, Canada and Finland, it is hoped a second unit will be open, at least on a partial basis, in July. There is a queue of children for places at Ballydowd, which is run by the South-Western Area Health Board. There are at present eight children in the unit which, when fully open, will cater for 24.

Ms Brid Clarke of the health board reported to Mr Justice Kelly yesterday on what progress has been made in relation to bringing Ballydowd, and a high-support unit at Portrane, Co Dublin, into operation.

She said there were continuing difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff. Eight had left since the unit opened last September. Some did not wish to pursue such work and others had difficulties with the cost of living in Dublin. The issue of a Dublin residential allowance had been raised but was not received positively.

Eighteen staff were required to open the second eight-bed unit at Ballydowd and 14 had been recruited. Ms Clarke said another recruitment campaign would begin next month.

In relation to the new unit at Portrane, to be operated by the Northern Area Health Board, the completion date was to have been next September, but Ms Clarke said she was yesterday informed that it would be mid-November. She hoped that date would be kept. All involved were aware of the urgency of completing the unit, but there were enormous difficulties in the building trade.

Ms Clarke said recruitment of staff for Portrane had begun, and some appointments had been made.

In relation to concerns expressed by the judge in another case about the availability of outside psychological and psychiatric services for the children in Ballydowd, Ms Clarke said some of the children were attending outside services.

A consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Brendan Doody, had been appointed to Ballydowd to provide one three-hour session a week to assess the therapeutic needs of the children under 16. Another consultant psychiatrist would assess the needs of children over 16.

Ms Clarke said she believed this allocation was sufficient at present, but the position would be kept under review. The director of Ballydowd had been authorised to access private psychiatric and other services for the children if necessary, and the SWAHB would pay for these. There was never a time when Ballydowd was used for containment only, she stressed.

Mr Justice Kelly listed the matter for further review on December 11th.