The Psychiatric Nurses Association is urging Health Minister Stephen Donnelly to intervene over the temporary closure of 11 psychiatric beds for children and adolescents at a west Dublin facility due to staff shortages.
PNA general secretary Peter Hughes has strongly condemned the closure of 11 of the 23 beds in the Linn Dara, Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMH) unit at Cherry Orchard and has urged Mr Donnelly to ensure resources are put in place as a matter of urgency so the beds can be re-opened.
He said the HSE has confirmed that the beds will remain closed until September at the earliest due to staff shortages.
But Mr Hughes said it is inexplicable that the HSE allowed the beds to close “in the light of the ongoing and worsening crisis in the provision of CAMHS services nationally”.
He said: “Linn Dara Day plays a vitally important role in the provision of child and adolescent mental health services in the greater Dublin region. A similar decision to close beds in this unit was made in 2017 and was met by widespread shock and opposition. It now appears that five years on that nothing has been learned and we find ourselves in the same position again.
“We really have to ask what it takes for the HSE, to realise the extent of the CAMHS crisis in the country when they can embark on the removal of these 11 beds from the system.
“The HSE says the reason for this decision is nursing shortages. The nursing complement for the in-patient unit is 51, however, at present, there are only 24 nurses employed for the unit - a shortage of 27 nurses.”
Mr Hughes added that recent nursing graduates are emigrating once again now that most international travel restrictions due to Covid-19 have been lifted.
"This is causing a recruitment and retention crisis and particularly in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). At the same time the demand for CAMHS has dramatically increased post-Covid and it is inexplicable that at a time of an ever-increasing demand for services that the service provision is being so drastically diminished by the proposed move in Linn Dara.
“While PNA recognise the ongoing difficulty in the recruitment of nurses the response of the Government and HSE cannot be to simply reduce services. The situation at Linn Dara is one more graphic illustration of the crisis in the recruitment and retention of psychiatric nurses which is the direct result of poor HSE planning and the HSE must now come forward to target solutions and incentives to encourage the recruitment and retention of nurses to adequately staff CAMHS services,” he said.
“This reduction in beds will further exacerbate an already unacceptable waiting list for CAMHS and will ultimately lead to an increase in the inappropriate admission of children and adolescents to adult mental health units. In fact, for the next four months there will only be 56 operational beds in CAMHS in the entire country, which is just over 50pc of the 100 beds recommended in mental health strategy Vision for Change (2006),” he added.
A spokesperson for the HSE said it made “the difficult decision to temporarily reduce the inpatient capacity at Linn Dara Child and Adolescent Inpatient facility from 22 beds to 13 beds”.
"This short-term reduction will be reviewed on a weekly basis, with the intention to return to full capacity at the earliest opportunity. The capacity issue is not related to any funding difficulties, but is due to challenges in hiring and retaining nursing staff at levels necessary to operate Linn Dara at full capacity while maintaining necessary standards of care and safety for patients.
“Dedicated follow-on support from the community-based CAMHS will continue to be provided to all clients on a routine basis. Staff will be deployed appropriately across the Linn Dara Child and Adolescent Mental Health Community teams to enhance the level of support available to the children and the families in the area.
“The HSE is actively engaged in a comprehensive national and international recruitment processes for psychiatric nursing staff for Linn Dara. The recruitment efforts have included both national and international campaigns as well as recruitment from graduate programmes. The HSE will continue all efforts to recruit staff for this unit over the coming weeks, and will explore all possible options to hire qualified staff.”