CUH’s €15m mental health unit on hold

The HSE had to shelve plans to open a state-of-the-art €15m psychiatric unit at Cork University Hospital last month after unions objected on foot of major concerns over staffing and health and safety.

Among the issues raised by the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) and Siptu in relation to the 50-bed standalone unit were:

nInadequate staffing. The HSE proposed 66 staff to run the unit last September but later revised the figure downwards to 56. The HSE argued that the reduction was justified because plans to designate six beds as “high observation” beds were temporarily ditched. However, the unions argue that they will still be catering for the same number of beds;

nLack of clarity around evacuation plans in the event of an outbreak of fire on the first floor, which was to cater for elderly patients with dementia;

nConcerns about access to security staff and the ability to respond to panic alarms. The unions claim security had to respond to 649 incidents between September 2012 and May 2014. The new unit — which will replace the old integrated unit known as ‘GF’ — is at a remove from the main hospital which will affect response times.

The unions also claim there has been failure by the HSE to clarify how the unit will have access to a “Crash Team” in the event of a patient being in danger of respiratory or cardiac arrest.

The standalone nature of the new unit has been severely criticised by Ted Dinan, professor of psychiatry at University College Cork, who described it as a “recipe for stigmatisation”.

Prof Dinan said its free-standing location on a corner of the campus meant it will be marked out as “the loony bin at the side of the main campus”.

“It’s going to be obvious to everyone that if you walk in there, you have mental health issues,” he said, adding that the decision to move the unit out of the main hospital was “political” — that the cancer department wanted more space.

Prof Dinan also supports the unions’ concerns over staffing, saying that “all its nooks and crannies and space” would make the new unit very difficult to nurse.

Both the PNA and Siptu claim to have raised concerns as far back as August 2013 but say there was little engagement until the HSE announced its intention to open it in January. At that point, the unions refused to co-operate, and on the day the HSE organised a media tour of the new building, a conciliation conference was taking place. Those talks broke down but further talks under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission are scheduled for tomorrow.

The HSE said in a statement that Cork Mental Health Services management are in “ongoing discussions with staff representatives to ensure that an early resolution is brought about” that would allow the new unit to open as soon as possible.

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