Des McSweeney, who is a psychiatric nurse in South Lee Mental Health Services, received a letter from the HSE on March 31 telling him he had been placed “off duty with pay” pending a formal meeting.
The letter, from Ned Kelly, area director of nursing with Cork Mental Health Services, said Mr McSweeney had been advised “of [HSE] policies and procedures relating to communications particularly with the media” but that he had “continued to engage in a manner which is inconsistent with the aforementioned policies and procedures”.
Mr Kelly referred to an interview Mr McSweeney conducted onRedFM on March 27 despite an earlier warning he was in breach of HSE communications policy when he wrote an opinion piece in the Irish Examiner on March 16.
The article, which was critical of proposed staffing levels and layout of the €15m acute psychiatric unit at Cork University Hospital which psychiatric nurses have refused to transfer to, led to Mr McSweeney being interviewed on RTÉ Radio.
READ MORE: When speaking out becomes the issue: Nurse placed off duty over patient safety fears .
Following the publication of the Irish Examiner article, Mr McSweeney was requested to attend a meeting on March 19 with Mr Kelly and Gretta Crowley, HSE South operations manager with responsibility for mental health. He attended and says he was shown a copy of HSE communications policy. He said his request to record the meeting was refused.
On March 30, following the RedFM interview, Mr McSweeney said one of his superiors attempted to hand him a letter in an envelope bearing his home address. He said he refused to accept it as it was not addressed to his workplace.
Mr Kelly subsequently arrived at the South Lee Mental Health Unit and tried to deliver it personally, but Mr McSweeney said he objected saying he was “on duty” and no union representative was present.
He said the interaction culminated in him being told by Mr Kelly that he was “no longer on duty” and this was confirmed in a letter the next day where he was accused of “refusal to engage with management in a reasonable manner”.
Mr McSweeney, a shop steward with Siptu, has the backing of his colleagues . Following a meeting last Tuesday, members agreed unanimously that the South Lee Mental Health nursing branch “totally support” Mr McSweeney as shop steward; endorsed the issues raised by him in the media “as they reflect the clinical concerns of the branch members in their present dispute with the HSE”; and were “appalled” by his suspension.
They called on Siptu to support him in what they considered was “a cynical attempt by management to gag our shop steward identifying the issues that affect us as members in our work as mental health nurses”.
The HSE said all staff interacting with the media are required to follow HSE protocols. It said it affords employees “complete confidentiality and cannot comment on matters relating to individual staff members”.
“Robust HR policies and procedures ensure due process for all employees and every effort is made to satisfactorily resolve any issues that arise,” it said.