Psychiatrists back nurses’ concerns over unopened unit

Psychiatrists at Cork University Hospital have rowed in behind nurses in a row with management over health and safety issues at a new €15m acute psychiatric unit that should have opened last January.

Psychiatrists back nurses’ concerns over unopened unit

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), which represents the majority of the nine consultants involved, said its members hadn’t been consulted collectively in relation to the new unit.

Steve Tweed, industrial relations director at the IMO, said in common with nursing staff, their members had concerns in relation to proposed staffing levels; layout of the unit; and the fact that a six-bed high observation unit originally planned as part of the new facility, had been shelved, at least in the short-term.

He said the IMO wrote to the HSE in February and “didn’t even get an acknowledgment”.

However, having raised the issue with the health service section of the Haddington Road Oversight Body, the IMO will now be party to talks scheduled to take place later this month at the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) where unions and the HSE will attempt to hammer out an agreement.

The HSE had sought to refer the matter to the Labour Court but the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) objected on the grounds that it did not have the skills to decide on appropriate staffing levels or to adjudicate on clinical issues.

The matter has already been the subject of failed conciliation, but returns to the LRC on April 27 and 28, scuppering any chance of the standalone unit opening this month. It was due to open last January.

The PNA and Siptu claim the proposed staffing levels for the 50-bed unit, which includes eight beds for elderly patients, are inadequate. There are additional concerns about layout.

An offer by the HSE to increase staffing was put to ballot by the PNA and Siptu last month, and recommended for acceptance.

However, the majority of staff in both unions rejected the offer.

In the meantime, the new state-of-the-art facility remains closed, with security staff from Cork University Hospital looking after it.

The HSE denied any overtime was being paid to staff providing security, saying it was “delivered within existing resources and there is no overtime used to cover the mental health unit”.

The HSE also said stakeholders in the Cork mental health services, including Siptu, the PNA, and the IMO, had been communicated with during the change programme and that “the local consultation process included the input of the consultants”.

The HSE said it was aware that the IMO “raised an issue regarding consultation at the recent Oversight Group Meeting” and that management in Cork Mental Health Services “wishes to advise that the IMO have not raised any issues of concern regarding safety/staffing, etc directly with management to date, as it relates to the new acute unit”.

The HSE also claimed that management “have engaged and addressed all of the concerns raised by the unions to date” adding that an additional 15 posts (10 nursing and five healthcare assistants) have been allocated to the new unit.

The HSE has asked staff to transfer to the new unit “under protest” but the unions declined to do so. The HSE said management had confirmed “their ongoing availability to engage in a consultation process”.

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