THE Health Service Executive (HSE) has agreed to recruit an extra 14 psychiatric nurses, following 36 alleged assaults on staff working in the Galway Mental Health Service for the first four months of the year.
Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) secretary, Des Kavanagh has confirmed that the number of psychiatric nurses working in the Galway Mental Health Service is to increase from 50 to 64.
In an interview with The Clare Champion, Mr Kavanagh said he recently met senior HSE managers to discuss ways to address the huge number of alleged assaults that were taking place in the service.
He said the union was very concerned about the chronic staff shortage and the reluctance of management to call in additional staff on overtime or to hire agency personnel.
Stating that staffing levels were at “critical levels”, he said the High Observation Unit in the Department of Psychiatry at University Hospital Galway had to remain closed due to a lack of staff.
At one stage, PNA members were considering balloting for industrial action but this wasn’t pursued when the HSE agreed to recruit an extra 14 nurses.
Having consulted with local union officials this week, Mr Kavanagh confirmed no new issues had emerged concerning assaults or staffing shortages.
He acknowledged the intervention of acting HSE West area manager, Bernard Gloster, who was very helpful with his efforts to resolve the dispute.
His comments came after Galway West Senator, Trevor Clochartaigh confirmed he was seeking clarification from the HSE that concerns raised by nursing staff regarding inappropriate safeguards for mental health patients went unheeded by management and that serious incidents have happened as a result.
Responding to Senator Clochartaigh’s claims, a HSE spokeswoman said the HSE could not comment at this time.
Senator Clochartaigh told The Clare Champion very serious concerns had been raised with him about extremely serious incidents that had allegedly happened under the structures of Galway-Roscommon HSE Primary Care management.
“I understand that union representatives had previously warned of inappropriate mixing of patients and that these warnings were not acted upon. I understand that it is felt that cutbacks to budgets and re-organisation of services have had an impact on the concerns being raised around patient and staff safety.
“I am seeking clarification from HSE management at a national level whether such serious incidents have indeed occurred and, if so, what is the nature and number of them.
“I would also like to know what steps the HSE has subsequently taken to ensure the safety of all patients under their care and staff in the Galway-Roscommon mental health services.
“I would also like to know if the Mental Health Commission is aware of the concerns and if they have been involved in addressing them,” he asked.
He said it is important that the workers’ representative organisations also make public statements in relation to these allegations, if they had a role in bringing them to the attention of the HSE management and when they did so.
He added it was also important to establish whether they are now satisfied that the concerns have been adequately addressed and whether they are confident that patients and staff can be assured that none of them are being put in unacceptable danger in the mental health services in Galway-Roscommon.
Concern was expressed by the Inspector of Mental Health Services about the closure of the newly-constructed High Observation Unit, following its last unannounced inspection on March 11 and 12 last.
Although the Department of Psychiatry at UHG had made improvements concerning compliance with individual care plans for patients, the inspector stated the centre was in breach of a condition it had imposed in relation to this requirement.
The inspector stated the newly-constructed eight-bed unit remained unused by the in-patient service, due to lack of staff and was used as office space to accommodate the psychology department.
There were plans to build a new Department of Psychiatry in UHG on the hospital campus but building had not yet begun on the new mental health in-patient unit.
At the time of inspection, there were 41 residents with an additional six residents on leave. Four of these residents were detained patients and were on approved leave, some for a considerable length of time.
Sector teams were resourced with health and social care professionals but, owing to leave, there was a lack of psychologists on three teams and one sector team was without an occupational therapist, due to extended leave.
No occupational therapist was assigned to the approved centre and there was no occupational therapy manager for the Galway catchment area.
In addition to the nursing staff rostered, there was an activities’ nurse but this nurse’s time was not protected and could be re-assigned to ward duties, if necessary.