'Get psychiatric nurses their promised jobs'

Dónal Nolan

The issue of mental health nursing graduates from the IT who have yet to be given permanent contracts by the HSE despite Government commitments to employ all 2016 and 2017 nursing graduates will be among the first raised as a new Oireachtas committee on mental health meets for the first time this week.

Committee member and Kerry Fianna Fáil TD John Brassil said he will be raising the issue this week having been contacted by a number of graduates still waiting for the offer of contracts - at a time when the HSE is spending €500,000 in overtime in Cork/Kerry alone and employing agency workers - many retired psych nurses - to staff services.

Deputy Brassil said the issue appears to be of a piece with an apparently underwhelming approach by the HSE to the whole mental health sector. "We're begining to address it now with the work of the Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care which was set up out of a recognised need in the last few years to start looking much more closely at it. Today for instance, the mental health services budget accounts for between six and seven per cent of the entire health budget, roughly half of the European norm of 11 per cent.

The shortage in mental health nurses is particularly acute in this part of the country he said. "We know that there is a severe shortage of mental health nurses in the country, especially in counties such as Kerry and Cork, yet the HSE isn't offering jobs to those who want to stay and work in the Irish health service."

It's an issue he intends prioritising at the outset of the new committee.

"My priorities are, firstly, to get the mental health budget in line with European averages; secondly to secure the appropriately trained staff to try to start dealing with issues in a way that will ensure fewer ending up in the often inappopriate setting of a hospital ward.

"Intervention is always better than cure, and an adequate primary care response in the community that would see psychiatrists helping people at an early juncture with cognitive behavioural therapy - using medication as a last resort - would keep the system from being overrun, as it is now, and allow better emergency care."


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