- Additonal reporting by Digital Desk
Latest: The chief officer with South East Community Healthcare has responded to recent images of people sleeping on the floor of the Psychiatric Unit in University Hospital Waterford.
Following the report in the Irish Examiner this morning, the hospital has faced criticism in relation to the overcrowding issues.
Speaking on RTÉ News at One, Kate Killeen-White said that she acknowledges that the current situation "is not ideal and is not acceptable" and said that she sincerely apologises to any patient, family member of staff member at the psychiatric unit in University Hospital Waterford who has been impacted.
"I cannot defend the situation presenting in Waterford," said Ms Killeen-White.
According to Ms Killeen-White, there are currently 47 patients in the unit and she assured listeners that staff are doing all that they can to provide safe care to patients awaiting a bed.
While the hospital endeavours to ensure that rosters are filled and that there is safe staffing levels in the Department of Psychiatry in Waterford at all times, she said that "the reality is that demand often exceeds supply" for the services.
Ms Killeen-White said that there are alternative measures implemented when they are over-occupied to try to alleviate the pressures.
The measures include increasing staff levels at the unit, accessing bed capacity in other public units and private units.
She said that the staff at all times try to maintain the privacy, dignity, safety and well-being of patients.
According to Ms Killeen-White, the mental health commission is notified when the department is over-occupied.
Update 12pm: Images of people sleeping on the floor of the Psychiatric Unit in University Hospital Waterford have been described as disgraceful.
Labour's Health Spokesperson Alan Kelly says there needs to be immediate action from the HSE to address appalling conditions in the psychiatric unit in University Hospital Waterford.
Deputy Kelly said: “As reports in today’s Irish Examiner show, the conditions in the psychiatric unit in University Hospital Waterford are completely substandard and require an urgent response from Government and the HSE.
“The level of overcrowding that is taking place in UHW is completely unacceptable. Vulnerable patients who need to be in these types of units require proper care and it is increasingly difficult for staff to provide it when there are too many patients in the unit.
“It is deplorable that patients in the psychiatric unit are sleeping on chairs or on the floor because there are no more beds left.
“Conditions like this are intolerable not just for patients and their families but for hospital staff who are trying to do their best for vulnerable patients.
Images of patients lying on the floor surrounded by screens have emerged from the psychiatric unit in University Hospital Waterford where severe overcrowding is causing “intolerable distress”, according to the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA).
PNA industrial relations officer Michael Hayes said there were 54 patients in the 44-bed unit earlier this week. Another seven patients were sent to the private St Patrick’s mental health services in Dublin and three more to Kilkenny.
“That means the unit was essentially dealing with 64 patients,” said Mr Hayes.
He said there were five patients sleeping on chairs yesterday.
“To expect people to sleep in chairs at the most vulnerable time of their life — I just don’t have a word for it,” he said.
It was impossible to deliver proper care at the unit, he added.
Mental Health Commission chief executive John Farrelly was made aware of the photographs by the Irish Examiner, and said the commission has previously met the HSE “at the highest level” to highlight its unhappiness at how mental health services in Waterford are operating. He said overcrowding made it impossible to provide quality care.
“We’ve addressed this at local level and at the highest level,” said Mr Farrelly. “We have told them we want them to look at governance and management in the area.”
Mr Farrelly said the matter may reach a point where the commission has to apply a condition to the centre’s registration limiting the amount of people that can be admitted to the unit.
“If people can’t comply with the regulations, they put their registration at risk,” he said.
The PNA said it has been highlighting the situation in Waterford for two years, while the situation had improved in Kilkenny in the intervening period, said Mr Hayes.
“But Waterford has nothing,” he added. “When we amalgamated with the Wexford service in 2010, we bled staff. All acute beds were moved to Waterford and the resources were never put in place to maintain the service. I think now that we are at a very dangerous point.”
Mr Hayes said there are 50 vacancies in mental health services in the region and they are “not in a position to build up a community service”.
John Hearne, a Sinn Féin councillor in Waterford, said there is “no dignity” for patients in such a chaotically crowded environment.
Mr Farrelly said the Mental Health Commission has formally told the HSE it cannot accept the way the mental health service is operating in Waterford and, where regulations are not complied with, the commission will use “the full rigours of the law”.
In a statement, the HSE, whose response did not address the issue of patients lying on the floor, said that, in some cases, patients need to wait overnight for a bed in the unit. Efforts are made to “make patients as comfortable as possible”.
“In these cases, patients may be offered chairs and blankets,” said the HSE. “Trolleys are not permitted to be used in the psychiatric unit.”
Over the last week, the unit had to deal with “an unusually high number of involuntary referrals”, said the HSE.