Majority of community mental health services likely to be cancelled
Psychiatric nurses’ overtime ban will have significant impact on patients , HSE warns
In a statement on Tuesday the HSE said that it was ‘very concerned about the impact the action will have on patients in many 24/7 psychiatric facilities nationwid’. Photograph: iStock
The majority of community mental health services are likely to be cancelled in the days ahead as a result of a planned overtime ban by psychiatric nurses, the HSE has said.
The closure of community services would free up nurses to be re-deployed into hospital settings which are likely to experience significant staff shortages as a result of overtime ban, it said.
However HSE sources suggested that “several thousand” people who avail of community mental health services would be affected by the move.
The HSE said the overtime ban to be put in place by psychiatric nurses from Wednesday will have “a very significant impact on vulnerable patients in locations across the country”.
It was “very concerned about the impact the action will have on patients in many 24/7 psychiatric facilities nationwide”.
Mental health services across the country rely to a significant degree on overtime and agency work. Last year nearly €16 million was paid out by the HSE to cover nursing overtime.
The Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) said it was re-introducing a ban on overtime from Wednesday following the collapse of talks at the Workplace Relations Commission with health service management on Monday evening over pay and measures to deal with recruitment and retention problems.
The HSE said in its statement that local crisis management teams in the community healthcare organisations were reviewing the situation on a service-by-service basis “with a view to putting in place contingency measures to try to deal with the effects of the action”.
“The HSE welcomes the fact that child and adolescent mental health services will not be affected by the dispute.”
While a deal was reached with members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation which involved an extension of allowances and a new enhanced nurse contract involving higher pay, no agreement was reached with the PNA.
The union is understood to be seeking to retain pay differentials between its members and general nurses as well for additional allowances to be extended to more psychiatric nurses.
PNA general secretary Peter Hughes said it was “disappointing that psychiatric nurses found themselves again having to take this action after being given clear indications by the employer that they were ready to bring forward meaningful and constructive proposals to finally resolve this dispute, and address the recruitment and retention crisis in mental health once and for all”.
“Unfortunately, yesterday’s talks at the Workplace Relations Commission showed once again the lack of any urgency by the employer to agree detailed terms that would end this dispute.”
“Having suspended our strike action five months ago to enter in good faith in a talks process, PNA finds we are back in dispute and have been left with no option but to reinstate the action by members who will not work beyond their contracted hours starting from the beginning of the evening shift tomorrow, Wednesday July 24th.”
“Our members are resolute that our mental health services cannot continue under a cloud of constant staff shortages which are impacting at all levels of the services. With 700 current vacancies and a haemorrhage of staff to better paid posts in the private sector and abroad, the crisis in recruitment and retention of psychiatric nurses is growing by the week and cannot be allowed to continue.”
An overtime ban put in place by the PNA earlier this month caused significant difficulties in some part of the mental health services.
A spokeswoman for the Minister for Health Simon Harris said he “would encourage the PNA to use the industrial relations machinery of the State, as the employer side is willing to do, in order to avoid the action going ahead on Wednesday”.
“Disruption for patients should and can be avoided,” he said.