CUH staffing issues delay psychiatric unit opening

Des Kavanagh said staff are feeling ostracised.

The opening of a €15m acute psychiatric unit is now almost two months behind schedule after staff rejected proposals aimed at securing their agreement to transfer to the new state-of-the-art building.

The HSE had planned a January opening of the unit on the grounds of Cork University Hospital, but unions objected on the grounds of major concerns over health and safety.

Both the Psychiatric Nurses Association and Siptu said the key issue was the proposed staffing level for the 50-bed unit.

HSE management had proposed 51 nurses for the unit which the unions considered inadequate. There was also a lack of agreement about the use of health care assistants.

The HSE has suggested that five HCAs be employed in the unit, but the PNA said it does “not believe the grade can add anything to adult acute services”.

Attempts to resolve the impasse had been ongoing at the Labour Relations Commissions and following talks, unions recommended members accept an offer of five additional nurses.

However, last week, Siptu members rejected the proposal by 20 to one and PNA members rejected it by 18 to four.

PNA general secretary Des Kavanagh said HSE management had not done enough to address members’ concerns.

“If they want to keep being bull-headed, the unit will not open, staff are feeling so ostracised by management in terms of their unwillingness to deal comprehensively with the issues,” Mr Kavanagh said.

He said he was available to go back to the LRC but not the Labour Court, which he said did not have the skills to decide on appropriate staffing levels or to adjudicate on clinical issues.

In a statement, the HSE said it was “extremely disappointed” with the outcome of last week’s ballot “given that both unions recommended co-operation with the move following the third Labour Relations Commission on February 17 last”.

The outcome meant staff were “still refusing to move to the new mental health unit on the CUH campus”, the HSE said.

However, the HSE said it remained “fully committed to utilising the available industrial relations machinery to resolve all issues between management and staff in relation to the move to the purpose-built new unit and has requested a referral to Labour Court to bring the issues to a conclusion”.

The HSE said that while Siptu had agreed to a Labour Court referral and subsequent hearing, “the PNA, have declined to accept a referral”.

The HSE said it believes a move to the new unit, as quickly as possible, “is in the best interest of service users and staff” and it “earnestly requests all parties to co-operate with the move”.

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