Nurses urged to accept new psych ward at Cork University Hospital

With plans to open an acute psychiatric unit at Cork University Hospital running five months behind schedule, a senior HSE manager has issued a plea to nursing staff to transfer to the new facility.

Gretta Crowley, HSE operations manager at Cork mental health services, said it was in the interest of staff and patients to “get the unit open”.

She said: “Our main focus is on getting the unit open and we are appealing to staff to co-operate with the move. We would like staff to work with us on the basis that we have respected the industrial relations process at all times.”

Ms Crowley said they had “certainly not tried to coerce people” in terms of getting them to vote in favour of proposals that, if accepted, would see staff transfer from the long-criticised GF unit in the main hospital to the new €15m standalone unit on the CUH campus.

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Ms Crowley’s claims run contrary to those expressed by the Psychiatric Nurses Association, as well as Siptu members, who said HSE management had been pressurising staff for a yes vote.

PNA general secretary Des Kavanagh last night reiterated his claim that they had temporarily deferred holding a ballot because of concerns that staff were being pressurised to vote in favour of the proposals.

Separately, several Siptu members turned up for a ballot yesterday in the belief that it was due to take place. However, a Siptu spokesperson said there had been a “misunderstanding”, that the union had rules to follow, including giving notice of the ballot, and that it would now take place next week.

Both unions represent more than 20 psychiatric nurses at CUH.

The row delaying the opening of the unit has centred mainly on union concerns that proposed staffing levels are inadequate.

The dispute has been to the Labour Relations Commission on four occasions. A previous set of proposals were rejected by members despite unions’ recommendations of acceptance. The latest proposals include an offer of 10 additional nurses and five additional healthcare assistants. The LRC has said they are the “absolute limit of what can be achieved taking into account all of the factors in this dispute”.

Ms Crowley defended plans to use healthcare assistants, a move that has been criticised by the PNA, which said they have no place in the unit. Ms Crowley said the skills mix was “appropriate” and in line with national policy. She said there was just one healthcare assistant to every two additional nurses they were proposing to put in place.

She said the HSE had “done everything we can” to answer questions raised by staff in relation to the new unit”.

Siptu is due to hold its ballot on the proposals on May 19 and 20. One Siptu shop steward, Des McSweeney, was put off duty with pay after he criticised plans for the new unit in the media. He has since returned to duty but remains unhappy with the proposals.

The new unit has 50 beds, four more than the unit it will replace, including eight beds for the psychiatry of old age. Plans for a six-bed high observation facility within the unit are on hold, but the HSE has committed to providing 12.5 additional staff should the facility become functional down the line.

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