Campaigners fear for psychiatric patients in nurse strike action

MENTAL health campaigners have pleaded for psychiatric patients to be spared the impact of today’s planned work stoppage by nurses.

Three of the five hospitals and facilities targeted for industrial action from 11am to midday today cater exclusively for people with mental illness and their supporters have asked that they be exempted from the dispute.

Brian Howard, chief executive of Mental Health Ireland, said he was concerned about the effect of the escalating dispute on patients. “It can only have an increasingly detrimental effect on their care,” he said.

“What we are talking about is a very vulnerable group. We would urge that this group perhaps might be exempted.”

He also urged both sides to resolve the row through the established industrial relations procedures. “When the action is prolonged, it’s only a matter of time before the care and standards will be affected negatively.”

Seamus Murphy of the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) said critical patients and services had not been affected during Wednesday’s work stoppage at St Luke’s Psychiatric Hospital in Clonmel and this would continue to be the policy where psychiatric services were included in the stoppages.

“We maintained essential cover equated with night duty cover which is in place from 6pm to 8am anyway so it’s good enough for 14 hours of the day in normal times,” he said.”

However, Mr Howard’s concerns were echoed by John Saunders, director of Schizophrenia Ireland, who said patient health was being jeopardised.

“If the dispute escalates then I think there will be an increased risk that people will become endangered and there is no way around that.”

The dispute, over nurses’ demands for a 10% pay increase and reduction in the working week to 35 hours, enters its 12th day today with no indication of either side backing down.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) warned yesterday the 44,000 nurses from the two striking unions — the PNA and the Irish Nurses Organisation (INO) — could be docked pay if they walk off the job or continue their work to rule.

INO general secretary Liam Doran warned in return that such an action would lead to a serious and immediate escalation of industrial action.

One-hour stoppages will take place today in Dublin and Roscommon where services affected will include Beaumont Hospital, an acute 720 bed hospital serving Dublin city and also providing neurosurgery and kidney transplants for the entire country.

St Ita’s Psychiatric Hospital, which provides inpatient, outpatient and day patient services is also targeted along with St Joseph’s Intellectual Disability Service which shares St Ita’s Portrane campus and provides specialist services for people with intellectual disability who also suffer from mental illness.

Nurses will also down tools for an hour at Roscommon County Hospital and at a range of facilities and supports under the county’s mental health services network.

Further stoppages are scheduled for next week although details of times and locations have not yet been announced.

Today’s action

Dublin City:

Beaumont Hospital

Full emergency cover will be provided and services will run as normal apart from the rescheduling of six of the 42 planned endoscopies (internal exploratory examinations) and 20 of the 70 appointments at one of the surgical outpatients clinics. Patients affected will have been notified so anyone with an appointment who has not been informed otherwise should attend as scheduled. The hospital is requesting that phone enquiries be kept to a minimum.

Dublin County:

St Ita’s Psychiatric Hospital & St Joseph’s Intellectual Disability Service, Portrane

Some restrictions will apply at the Mental Health & Intellectual Disability Day Services, Outreach Services and out-patient clinics at both facilities. The majority of appointments have been rescheduled for the afternoon and clients notified accordingly.

Co Roscommon:

Roscommon County Hospital:

All outpatient and day patient appointments were being kept under arrangements worked out yesterday but patients were being warned that delays were possible and it may take longer to progress through the hospital. Any changes, although considered unlikely, will be notified to patients this morning. Patients are being asked not to ring the hospital.

Roscommon Mental Health Services

Services are split around a number of locations and arrangements have been made that should ensure patients are not adversely affected. At minimum, night cover will remain in place at all locations and appointments will not be cancelled.

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