Monday 21 October 2019

Mental health services face 'significant' disruption as nurses refuse to work overtime

Peter Hughes: PNA secretary accused HSE of dragging out row
Peter Hughes: PNA secretary accused HSE of dragging out row

Anne-Marie Walsh and Eilish O’Regan

MENTAL health services face “significant” disruption tomorrow when nurses refuse to work overtime, the HSE has warned.

Members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association are planning a ban on overtime.

They will refuse to work beyond their contracted hours in a row over pay rises.

In a statement, the HSE said managers are currently assessing the situation on a service-by-service basis to see what impact the withdrawal of cooperation with overtime will have on those services.

It said this process is continuing today.

“It is likely that the withdrawal of cooperation with overtime will have a significant impact on services and contingency planning is required to ensure that those patients most at risk are cared for,” it said.

Agency workers are likely be drafted in to maintain services, particularly in hospitals where staffing levels are already tight.

A union spokesperson said the overtime ban was in response to a lack of meaningful progress at talks with the HSE.

They are seeking improvements in pay and conditions and claim there is an ongoing recruitment and retention crisis.

The psychiatric nurses previously suspended industrial action along with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation to attend talks at the Labour Court earlier this year in the same dispute. Although the INMO accepted a deal worth more than €35m after calling off strikes, the dispute in mental health services was never resolved.

Health Minister Simon Harris said the decision to suspend overtime is disappointing, given the parties are still engaged in conciliation under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission.

“It will have a negative impact on the delivery of care for patients and the minister hopes this course of action will not go ahead,” he said.

The PNA said today its members will work only their contracted hours “in response to the lack of any meaningful progress in five months of talks to resolve the growing recruitment and retention crisis in mental health services.”

PNA General Secretary, Peter Hughes said nurses are irate and frustrated that they must revert to working only contracted hours having suspended their strike action five months ago on the clear understanding that the HSE was ready to offer substantial solutions to finally address the crisis in recruitment and retention.

Mr Hughes said today: “Over the past five months of talks which have made little if any progress, nurses have shown extraordinary patience as they watch the mental health services struggle with staff shortages. In some services, these shortages amount to over 20pc and overall nationally we know that there are 700 vacancies in mental health services. This is not sustainable in a vital area of our health care where demand is growing all the time.

“From the ‘get go’ PNA has been fully engaged in working to secure a satisfactory outcome in the talks with the  employers represented by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), Department of Health (DOH) and HSE , and under the auspices of the WRC. Unfortunately, we have not been convinced that the employer has shown any urgency over the past five months to bring the talks to a conclusion.”

He claimed that the actions of the HSE have only added to the recruitment problems in mental health by maintaining an effective embargo on recruitment, and not offering permanent posts to this year’s graduates, as has been the practice in recent years.

“This stand by the HSE has been all the more baffling given that competition from the private sector to recruit mental health nurses has intensified, with significantly improved and attractive salaries on offer.’

“If the recruitment and retention crisis in mental health is to be addressed and the good will of psychiatric nurses restored, then it will require a clear demonstration of urgency and commitment from the HSE.”

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