Bid to prevent strike action by nurses over staff shortage
The HSE is locked in talks with representatives of psychiatric nurses at the biggest hospital in the west in a bid to avoid industrial action over staff shortages.
The meeting followed a picket by up to 50 psychiatric nurses outside University College Hospital in Galway yesterday.
The Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) warned that the unit at the Galway hospital and others across the west were unsafe for their members.
Assurances given by the HSE about the availability of overtime for nurses and agency staff were dismissed by PNA General Secretary Des Kavanagh.
"The HSE have said they are doing their best and have given approval for agency staff and for overtime. But the problem is there are no people available to do the overtime because they are exhausted and the agencies are telling us they don't have staff to provide agency cover," Mr Kavanagh said.
Daily there was a shortage of four or five nurses at the Galway unit and staff simply could not cope with the number of admissions, he said.
"It's unsafe for patients, it's unsafe in terms of their physical safety and their care and it's unsafe in terms of the staff themselves. This is a dispute that's about safety and care of staff and patients.
"We don't have the community teams, we don't have the psychiatric intensive care units and the predominant locus of service is actually based in the acute unit with not enough service in the community to support it and it's wholesale dangerous", Mr Kavanagh added.
He described the absence of a secure ward at the psychiatric unit in UCHG as 'extraordinary'.
An examination of admissions for the year to date had revealed that the number of patients detained against their will at the Galway unit was five times the national average.
"It's around 11pc nationally, but it's around 50pc in Galway. Why that is, I don't know, but it raises significant questions that need to be examined.
"The whole western coast from the top of Donegal down to Limerick and Clare – there is no secure unit or what's called an intensive care rehabilitation unit.
"There is no secure unit and the planning is that we will not have one until, at the earliest, 2017".
Three nurses have been attacked by patients in Donegal in recent weeks. All three had been injured and one was left seriously traumatised as a result of the incident, Mr Kavanagh confirmed.
He described yesterday's meeting with the HSE as an opportunity for management to put their best foot forward.
He said in the event of the HSE failing to reassure the PNA of an immediate response, a ballot for industrial action would be held and this would start next Monday.
"I think we have to say to the HSE and minister that we have had all the promises and heard all these lovely assurances and the ideals of a wonderful new mental health service – it's not there," Mr Kavanagh said.