Despite the matter being raised in the Dáil, no date has been pencilled in for the opening of the unit.
Work on the four-bed unit at the acute admission department at Kerry General Hospital in Tralee was completed in December.
Cormac Williams of the Psychiatric Nurses Association said the unit was built to help in the management and treatment of patients with challenging and disturbed behaviour.
He called for the recruitment of more nurses after Kerry TD Tom Fleming (Ind) highlighted the issue during leaders’ questions in the Dáil. Mr Fleming did not get a definitive answer as to when nurses would be deployed at the unit.
He had claimed health service staff numbers were continuing to decline and, for every two nurses being recruited, three were retiring.
Communications Minister Alex White pointed out that the Government had earmarked an additional €125m for mental health services between 2012 and 2015.
He said discussions were taking place between the Department of Health and the HSE on the final allocation, this year, of €35m.
The matter, Mr White said, is due to be finalised in the “near future” as he insisted the Government had prioritised the modernisation of the mental health services, despite a lack of resources in the past four years.
Mr Fleming said: “Many mental health nurses are unemployed, have emigrated, or are working as care staff in private nursing homes.
“They cannot get jobs as registered psychiatric nurses with the HSE locally. That is not proper. The mental health services in Co Kerry need a minimum of 25 whole-time equivalent nursing posts as a priority to end overtime and ensure services are fully staffed.”
Mr Fleming also highlighted the continuing admission of children to adult psychiatric wards. Mr White agreed that it is a matter which needs to be addressed.
Resources are being applied to it and it remains a key priority, he said.
Meanwhile, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has warned of another staffing crisis in Kerry, at Listowel Community Hospital.
The group’s industrial officer, Michael Dineen, said the number of nursing hours worked per week in the hospital had almost halved from 1,068 to 563 since 2008.
This was due, he said, to the failure of the HSE to replace staff who had returned or who had been forced to go on reduced hours for health reasons.
“The staffing crisis at Listowel now poses a real threat to the viability of the hospital,” Mr Dineen claimed.
Calling for an immediate recruitment campaign for nurses, he said the situation is replicated in other care centres for the elderly.
Mr Dineen said the reduction in hours worked was directly attributable to failed HSE policies which placed greater emphasis on the cost of care than on the care needs of patients.
He said the remaining staff in Listowel were demoralised and there would be further reductions in staff because of more retirements and resignations.