Senator John Gilroy knows St Stephen’s Hospital better than most, having worked as a psychiatric nurse there for 20 years before being elected to the Seanad in 2011.
He has waded into the controversy after psychiatric nurses staged a protest outside the hospital to highlight their “grave concerns” about plans to remove asbestos from a ward while the patients continue to be housed there.
Mr Gilroy said he couldn’t understand why the HSE couldn’t wait to do the job when the ward is closed for a major refurbishment in three weeks’ time.
The HSE maintains that the work can be undertaken with the 13 male patients in situ because experts say the removal of the asbestos is classified as “very low risk”.
The asbestos is contained in the floor of the ward and the HSE said works areas will be partitioned off.
The HSE also said that the partitions will be sealed off preventing any air pollutants leaving the works area.
However, Mr Gilroy said, regardless of this, the noise alone will be extremely disruptive to patients and staff.
“If they are removing asbestos from the floor they’ll probably have to use kango hammers. If this was happening at Cork University Hospital, I’m sure the patients wouldn’t be left in the ward,” he said.
The Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) says it could move all the patients into a unit less than 50 metres away.
The hospital originally opened in 1955 to deal with tuberculosis cases. With developments in treatment for TB the need for beds in the hospital declined and so it became a psychiatric hospital.
“Back then dangers of asbestos weren’t realised. In its intact form there’s no risk, but when it’s broken up the dust presents the problem. There should be an asbestos audit and risk assessment of all the buildings in the hospital,” he said.
The senator said he remembered a few years ago that asbestos had to be removed from another ward at the hospital and the patients were transferred to another building until the work was complete.
The builders were supposed to move in last Monday, but didn’t arrive on site. It was the same day the PNA held its protest.
It’s understood the PNA is considering what further steps it might take to protect the health and safety of patients and staff.