Mental health services will face significant disruption today as a result of industrial action by psychiatric nurses.
Members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) are staging a de facto overtime ban, which began at 7am on Thursday morning, in protest at what the trade union described as a lack of meaningful progress in dealing with recruitment and retention difficulties in the mental health services.
In a statement on Wednesday the HSE said the move was “likely to have a significant impact on services”.
The HSE said managers were assessing the situation “on a service-by-service basis to see what impact the withdrawal of cooperation with overtime will have on those services”.
“This process will continue today (Wednesday).”
“It is likely that the withdrawal of cooperation with overtime will have a significant impact on services and contingency planning is required to ensure that those patients most at risk are cared for,” the HSE said.
While members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) concluded a deal with the Government after a three-day strike in February, no agreement was reached with the PNA.
The union suspended industrial action at the time to allow for talks at with Government representatives, the PNA maintained that these had not been successful.
The PNA said from Thursday psychiatric nurses would work only their contracted hours “in response to the lack of any meaningful progress in five months of talks to resolve the growing recruitment and retention crisis in mental health services”.
PNA general secretary Peter Hughes said nurses were “irate and frustrated that they must revert to working only contracted hours having suspended their strike action five months ago on the clear understanding that the HSE was ready to offer substantial solutions to finally address the crisis in recruitment and retention”.
“Over the past five months of talks which have made little if any progress, nurses have shown extraordinary patience as they watch the mental health services struggle with staff shortages.
“In some services, these shortages amount to over 20 per cent and overall nationally we know that there are 700 vacancies in mental health services. This is not sustainable in a vital area of our health care where demand is growing all the time,” he said.
“From the get-go PNA has been fully engaged in working to secure a satisfactory outcome in the talks with the employers represented by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Department of Health and the HSE, and under the auspices of the Workplace Relations Commission.
"Unfortunately, we have not been convinced that the employer has shown any urgency over the past five months to bring the talks to a conclusion.”
Mr Hughes said that “meanwhile the actions of the HSE have only added to the recruitment problems in mental health by maintaining an effective embargo on recruitment , and not offering permanent posts to this year’s graduates, as has been the practice in recent years”.
“This stand by the HSE has been all the more baffling given that competition from the private sector to recruit mental health nurses has intensified, with significantly improved and attractive salaries on offer.”
“’If the recruitment and retention crisis in mental health is to be addressed and the good will of psychiatric nurses restored, then it will require a clear demonstration of urgency and commitment from the HSE.”
On Monday the Minister for Health Simon Harris said the planned overtime ban by members of the PNA would have a negative impact on the delivery of care for patients.