Thursday 8 December 2016

Health Minister 'not aware' of 'whistleblower' HSE nurse's suspension despite receiving letter

Published 10/04/2015 | 10:51

Health Minister Leo Varadkar
Health Minister Leo Varadkar

Health Minister Varadkar said he had not heard of a HSE nurse’s plight in which he was suspended from his post, despite receiving a letter about the cause.

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Cork-based psychiatric nurse Des McSweeney  was removed from rostered duty on paid leave after he publicly expressed concerns in relation to a new €15m psychiatric unit in Cork.

He previously told RTE Radio One he felt he was being ‘gagged’ for voicing his opinion.

Writing in the Irish Examiner, Mr McSweeney said the new unit ‘is not clinically fit-for-purpose and will ultimately endanger the lives of people using the service’.

Following the article and two separate radio interviews, Mr McSweeney received a letter from the HSE Area Director of Nursing which said he had a ‘continuing failure to ensure compliance with HSE policies and procedures relating to communications, particularly with the Media’.

The letter said Mr McSweeney was to ‘remain off rostered duty on paid leave pending a review of the matter relating to your behaviour and conduct as it relates to your employment as a Mental Health Nurse with the Health Service Executive and pending a review of the Report of the Occupational Health Department following your medical assessment on the 10th of April’.

Mr McSweeney told RTE Radio One he had written to Health Minister Leo Varadkar about the incident on March 31, but the Health Minister said today he had not heard of Des McSweeney’s case and did not want to comment on the situation until he knew all the facts.

“This is the first I’ve heard of this particular case and I’m not directly involved in staff issues in the HSE which of course is a statutory, independent agency but I can certainly get it checked out,” Minister Varadkar told RTE Radio One’s Morning Ireland.

“I would certainly like to know the details before I give a comment.”

When informed that Mr McSweeney had written to the minister about his case, Minister Varadkar said he hadn’t seen the correspondence.

“He may well have [written to me] but I haven’t seen the correspondence. It was probably just before the Easter break,” he said.

“As you can appreciate, we run at about 900-2,000 items a week , it could have been diverted to the mental health section but I’ll certainly check it out and when I know the facts I’ll be happy to give you a response.

“Look it, I’m loathe to comment on something on the face of it, I’d like to know the details,” he continued.

“For example, I’m not sure whether this disclosure he made was under the Whistleblower’s Protection Act or not, perhaps you’d let me know.”

Mr McSweeney is a shop steward with Siptu, but wrote in the Irish Examiner that he was speaking about his concerns on his own behalf. He said his own motivation for becoming a nurse stemmed from his experience of cancer and the excellent care he received as a child.

He said the refusal of the nurses to move from the existing inadequate mental health unit at Cork University Hospital to a €15m state-of-the-art unit on the campus grounds is not solely financial.

Mr McSweeney wrote in the Irish Examiner that nurses in the unit are concerned about healthcare assistants replacing mental health nurses, the spreading of management responsibilities over two floors and that plans for a high observation ward had been temporarily shelved in an attempt to overcome staff shortages.

The nurses’ refusal to move out of the existing unit is also preventing the development of an oncology unit in the CUH, Mr McSweeney wrote.

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