Councillor Catherine Connolly has welcomed the support of the Regional Health Forum regarding her motion suggesting the Forum receive an urgent report on what steps have been taken by HSE West to remedy the position of the psychiatric unit in Galway. Ms Connolly was speaking in relation to the ongoing health and safety concerns of the staff and those of the Mental Health Commission.
Councillor Connolly tabled this motion at last Thursday’s meeting on May 26, following the unprecedented step taken by 10 psychiatric nurses who refused to go to work in the psychiatric department last April, and to the staff’s continued concerns and industrial action. She said that the nurses and families of patients have repeatedly highlighted their concerns to elected members in relation to the inadequacy of the building itself, the inadequate staff ratios, and the 36 assaults which the staff have had to cope with.
Councillor Connolly and other councillors have raised these issues on many occasions in the Regional Health Forum, but were met with strong and direct denials by management. She said that staff concerns intensified further following the decision by HSE management not to use the brand new 22 bed mental health unit in Ballinasloe in early 2014. This decision, which saw a substantial increase in the number of vulnerable patients from the county having to go to Galway to seek help, put the facility under incredible stress. Rather than dealing with and hearing staff concerns, which were always expressed in a reasonable manner, HSE West management continued not to listen or deal with them.
She said that following the decision not to open the new unit in Ballinasoe, HSE West increased the bed capacity in Galway from 35 beds to 45 beds in a unit that was already seriously under strain due to a lack of staff. In response to the motion tabled last Tuesday, HSE West management finally confirmed to Councillor Connolly that there were issues of concern including a lack of staff and psychologists. This is an issue, she said, which the Mental Health Commission annual inspection reports have repeatedly highlighted, particular in relation to the lack of psychologists and occupational therapists.
In addition, the commission has highlighted a number of other issues, including a failure to open the newly constructed high observation unit, and the failure to have up-to-date policies in place. These are issues which should have led a responsible health executive management and Minister for Health to take urgent action. However, it has taken the courageous actions of the psychiatric nurses in refusing to work to highlight the ongoing serious health and safety issues posed by the inadequacy of the unit and the staffing ratio.
She added that that the situation is very worrying and that she will continue to raise the matter at every opportunity with the Health Forum. She is also calling on the Health Commission to carry out a full inspection of the psychiatric unit as a matter of urgency, given that it is over one year since their last unannounced full inspection, following which they had incredibly serious concerns.