Public health nursing services in Galway are facing emergency closures this week due to staffing difficulties, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has said.
The nurses’ trade union said the HSE was refusing to fill posts which have become vacant.
The INMO said that health nursing services in Ballinasloe and Portumna typically had six nurses.
However, it said the service was facing four vacancies due to maternity leave, resignation and reassignments.
It said the HSE was refusing to fill these posts. The HSE’s Community Healthcare West said on Monday it was aware of the shortage of nursing cover in the Ballinasloe and Portumna areas.
“We are currently working on a plan that will provide an increased level of nursing cover,” it said .
The union said local public health nurses as well their managers and the INMO notified the HSE that that the service would be forced to shut on Friday, November 15th, unless the vacant posts were filled.
Public health nurses provide care in the community, patients’ homes, schools and health centres.
The INMO said public health nurses were typically trained both as nurses and midwives. It said the alternative to public health nursing is often admission to hospital.
The union said that in a formal warning to management, staff and local management set out a list of patients which the service would no longer be able to accept. It said these included including:
* oncology/chemotherapy patients
* acute hospital discharges
* new mothers, including post-natal care
* child protection/health referrals
The INMO said many patients, in need of wound care, palliative care, and those with disabilities now faced referral to GPs and hospitals.
INMO Industrial Relations Officer in Galway, Anne Burke, said: "No health service can function with only a third of the usual staff. Local management and frontline staff have tried their best to keep the show on the road, but it has clearly reached a tipping point.
“Services are closing unnecessarily because of bureaucratic blindness. Senior managers in the HSE and the regional community health organisation need to replace these staff urgently to ensure patients do not suffer.
“Our hospitals are not in a position to take on these extra patients. This morning, there are already 30 patients lining corridors without beds in University Hospital Galway. Patients will not simply go away: they will be driven into already stretched hospitals and GP services.”
INMO general secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said the situation in Galway was “an extreme symptom” of what was happening across the country.
“The HSE’s refusal to fill vital, frontline posts is weakening services. Cuts have consequences and exceptionally vulnerable patients are being forced to pay the price in Galway.
“It’s yet another example of the damaging role the HSE’s recruitment freeze is having.”
Separately nurses said there were 593 patients, deemed to require admission to hospital, waiting on trolleys in emergency departments or on wards for a bed on Monday.
It said the centre worst affected by overcrowding was University Hospital Limerick where 65 patients were waiting for a bed.