Mental health services at risk as 1,000 nurses due to retire

MENTAL health services will be “impossible to maintain” if the HSE’s own analysis of staffing levels is borne out and a further 1,000 nurses leave their jobs this year, documents have revealed.

Already at breaking point with the loss of 1,500 nursing staff over the last three years, internal HSE documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the extent of the crisis and the difficulties HSE management faced to secure an exemption of 100 posts from the Department of Finance.

In April this year, assistant national director of mental health in the HSE, Martin Rogan, wrote to regional directors of operations revealing concerns that a further 1,000 psychiatric nurses are expected to retire this year.

The documents show that after much lobbying, the Department of Finance finally made an exemption for 100 posts.

However, there is no funding attached to them, meaning each area must fund any position from its own resources.

Mr Rogan said the 100 posts would not cover all losses and as no funding was attached to them, a business model case must be presented for each position with the guarantee to fund it.

The memo also states there are a “number of services which are in a critical situation, with acute inpatient services being compromised, with an escalating risk to service users and staff members alike”.

According to the document, the HSE carried out an analysis of staff working in mental health which again this year showed “an alarming and disproportionate exposure to retirement in 2010”.

“In Dublin north east alone 250 nurses will become eligible for retirement this year with the majority expected to leave before end of the year.”

Another reason for high retirement rates this year are concerns over taxation of retirement lump sums.

The April memo points out that despite having fewer than 9% of the total HSE workforce, mental health services could be contributing more than 60% of the HSE’s total staff reduction.

Mr Rogan added that another “equally urgent need” is to open two new Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) units in Cork and Galway.

“If unable to open these units we will be compelled to purchase scarce and extremely expensive beds from the independent sector,” he said.

To open both units requires about 60 staff.

The units must open this year as a new code of practice says no child under 17 years should be admitted to adult psychiatric units from December 1, 2010.

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