PSYCHIATRIC nurses are resisting cost-cutting plans to transfer female psychiatric patients to a male ward.
The HSE is attempting to move six long-stay female patients from St Conal's Psychiatric Hospital in Letterkenny, Donegal, to a ward which has 15 male patients.
One of the female patients is known to be hostile to the sight of any man, while another is related to one of the male patients.
The move has caused concern among families of the female patients as well as among psychiatric nursing staff.
The Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) said it had not agreed to the amalgamation of the wards.
"Our position is that the move will not take place until it is clear there is no risk to patients," the PNA's industrial relations officer, Seamus Murphy, said.
St Conal's Hospital was built in 1866 to accommodate psychiatric patients from the Donegal area. Due to declining numbers, the only wards which remain open are St Bernadette's for females and St Ciaran's for males.
Under the HSE's plan, the male and female patients will have separate sleeping areas and bathroom facilities on St Ciaran's ward, but the only official barrier between the sexes will be a nurses' station.
The move was the subject of two Labour Court hearings last August and a further hearing is scheduled to take place. Although the PNA is not opposed to the concept of a shared ward in principle, it wants proper protection procedures put in place and adequate staffing levels at night.
Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghin O'Caolain has also expressed concern about plans to move the patients to St Ciaran's ward.
He said: "This is a ward which was never designed for both sexes and the families of the female patients are concerned that incidents could arise. I'm asking the Minister for Health if she feels it's appropriate but she is just saying that the HSE has operational responsibility for it."
The HSE said the amalgamation of the wards will free up psychiatric nursing staff for work with new community mental health teams. In a statement, the executive said it had consulted staff and carried out a risk assessment about the plan to move the six female patients to St Ciaran's ward and added that the families and relatives of the patients are being notified about the move, with their concerns being addressed.