Galway hospital psychiatric nurses back on duty

Nurses experienced 36 assaults in acute psychiatric unit since January, says union

Ten nurses  refused to take up duty in University College Hospital Galway’s acute psychiatric unit early on Wednesday morning in protest over inadequate staffing. File photograph: David Cheskin/PA Wire

Ten nurses refused to take up duty in University College Hospital Galway’s acute psychiatric unit early on Wednesday morning in protest over inadequate staffing. File photograph: David Cheskin/PA Wire

 

Psychiatric nurses at University College Hospital Galway (UCHG) have agreed to return to duty following an intervention by the Labour Relations Commission (LRC).

Ten nurses had refused to take up duty in the Galway hospital’s acute psychiatric unit early on Wednesday morning in protest over inadequate staffing.

The staff, who are members of the Psychiatric Nurses’ Association (PNA), had turned up for their 7.30am shift but refused to enter the 45-bed acute unit.

As a result, night staff had to continue to provide cover.

PNA national secretary Noel Giblin said the Galway staff had been “left with no choice but to take the unprecedented step” due to “concerns for patient care and staff safety”.

He said nurses had experienced 36 assaults in the Galway unit since January, with insufficient staff on duty to provide special care for a number of patients described as having highly challenging behaviour.

Health care assistants were providing cover for some of these patients, he said.

Tensions simmering

Tensions have been simmering at UCHG since the closure of a new €2.8 million acute psychiatric unit in Ballinasloe, east Galway, without adequate alternatives having been provided in the community.

The union had warned of the severe pressure this would put on UCHG, and local politicians warned it was against the spirit of the Government’s mental health policy, Vision for Change.

Last summer up to 50 PNA members protested outside the Galway regional hospital over staffing issues.

HSE West condemned what it described as the “arbitrary refusal” of staff to turn up for work on Wednesday morning, but said it had “arranged for this issue to be brought as a matter of urgency to the LRC for conciliation”.

It said a meeting was scheduled for next week.

HSE West said it wanted to reiterate that the “unannounced and unofficial action” had “the potential to affect patient safety”, and it had “affected the level of service to patients undergoing treatment”.

‘Severe pressure’

“The refusal to work was outside the normal industrial relations process, and placed severe pressure on night staff who remained on duty to provide care to their patients in the absence of their colleagues,” HSE West said in a statement.

The PNA said its members agreed to take up duty “following agreement with management to make the unit safe with the allocation of extra staff”, and to enter LRC-convened talks next Tuesday.

The union said it welcomed the intervention of the LRC, and said it hoped staff would “not be forced to take further action” before next Tuesday’s discussions.

It said it would be “seeking sustainable and long-term solutions to the issues at the UCHG unit” and warned that “nothing less will be acceptable” to make it “safe for staff and patients”.