‘Crisis’ staffing levels at city psychiatric unit prompts lunchtime protest

A lunchtime protest taking place outside UHG today (Thursday ) will highlight what the Psychiatric Nurses’ Association claims are crisis staffing levels at the hospital’s 45 bed acute psychiatric unit.

Up to 100 people, including psychiatric nurses, patients and their families, are expected to take part in the demonstration from 1pm to 3pm outside the hospital’s gates.

Staffing levels at the unit are at “crisis point”, says PNA spokesperson Noel Giblin. Twenty-five nursing staff are employed there, he says. He warns that patients and staff ’s lives are being put at risk because of the ongoing staffing shortage.

“This protest comes against the backdrop of the closing down of the 22 bed acute admission unit at St Brigid’s Psychiatric Unit in Ballinasloe. Its closure resulted in an increased demand for services at UHG’s psychiatric unit. We saw higher admission rates than ever before. However staff levels did not significantly rise to those required to look after the increase in clients.”

Inadequate staffing levels mean it is not unusual for one nurse to be left in charge of the 22 bed female unit or the 23 bed male unit at the city facility, he says.

“This situation, which occurred this week, is completely unacceptable for both staff and patients,” he insists.

The knock-on effect of this staffing shortage means that nurses are unable to provide proper care plans as required under the Mental Health Acts, are not providing activities for patients, are unable to attend team meetings. and face an increased risk of assault or injury, he claims.

His union is “very fearful” of staff being assaulted. “There have been so many near misses in the last few weeks. On an almost daily basis there are adverse events.

“There was an activities department in the unit which offered occupational therapy in an acute setting. It’s been closed down for the last three weeks, the nurses have been taken out of it to work on the floor. Its role was to provide activities, therapeutic counselling and group work. It helped patients a lot and was a requirement of mental health legislation.”

Mr Giblin states the staffing crisis is putting “huge pressure” on nurses. “Morale is at an all time low, this is taking a personal toll on them. They feel dejected. They feel they are not able to provide the necesary service to patients. One nurse said she did not get five minutes to sit with a patient one day. Psychiatric nursing is about providing therapeutic counselling, support and helping clients re-integrate into the community.”

He claims an agreement with HSE management for a minimum staffing of 10 nurses, with additional nurses to be recruited for one-to-one care when required, has been breached repeatedly in recent weeks.

The PNA says the staffing problem at UHG is confirmed in an as yet unpublished health and safety audit on the unit which was reported in the media recently. It concluded there are serious concerns over safety in the facility.

Poor planning

Noel Giblin blames the staffing shortage on a lack of “joined-up thinking” in the HSE, financial constraints and poor planning.

“We are now seeing the effects of poor planning in relation to the closure of the Ballinasloe unit and a lack of joined-up thinking. When Ballinasloe was to close, Galway city was to provide a home-based treatment system for clients. This would work 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Anyone who needed admission would contact the service and there would be a plan to keep them at home. This was to happen around March, but it never came into place.”

While the existing city based psychiatric unit is to be replaced in September 2015 by a 50-bedded unit, this will require even more staff, he says.

“This will be a new modern, bright unit compared to the portacabin design we have currently. It has ongoing leaking problems, unsuitable

bathrooms, it’s like an oven in summer and a fridge in winter. It’s not fit for purpose.

“But the problem with the new unit is that it will require even more staff. The HSE can’t staff a 45 bed facility, what chance is there of staffing a 50 bed one?”

The nursing spokesperson says HSE management has offered to meet union representatives this afternoon after the protest. Union leaders and nursing staff will meet over the weekend to decide their next move. The PNA says it will not rule out further industrial action.

Staffing levels based on patient numbers

In a statement the HSE West said it has not been formally notified of any industrial action taking place at the acute unit in Galway.

It pointed out that an additional 12 nursing staff have been redeployed from the former acute unit in Ballinasloe.

“Staffing levels in acute units are not static and will increase and decrease on a weekly basis based on the numbers of patients, the nature of their illness and whether they require one to one nursing support. A further eight new nursing posts have been approved and are in the final stages of recruitment. Permission is in place for the acute unit in GUH to increase staff numbers through employment of agency nursing when it is required.”

“Intensive community treatment, providing a clinically appropriate alternative to hospital admission is being implemented. This service is up and running on a seven day basis in GR 5 (serving the Ballinasloe area ). It is currently progressing in the other sectors with anticipated operation in Quarter 3. This will further reduce the numbers of patients who require inpatient admission and is in line with Vision for Change [report of an expert group on mental health policy].”

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