By Toni Bourke
Mayo mental health services has seen a reduction of 120 nurses from 260 to 140 since the introduction of the Croke Park Agreement three years ago, according to figures obtained by independent councillor Michael Kilcoyne. The Castlebar town councillor has hit out at An Taoiseach Enda Kenny for announcing only 14 new mental health posts in the county this week when “more than 114 are needed”.
Cllr Kilcoyne told the Mayo Advertiser that only five per cent of the health budget is spent on mental health services while 60 per cent of cuts in health spending have been in this area.
This week 10 psychiatric nurses in Mayo who have been working on temporary monthly contracts were told in the space of a day that their contracts would not be renewed, while later that day they were asked to sign a new four week contract.
The nurses, all graduates of GMIT Castlebar and all working in either Mayo General Hospital or the local community, are uncertain as to their future careers, despite the announcement of the 14 mental health posts.
A letter dated March 21 was only received by the nurses on Wednesday of this week, March 27, which advised them that due to a national directive, their contracts would not be renewed after April 1.
The letter, which was seen by the Mayo Advertiser, said: “Mayo Mental Health Services are not in a position to renew your temporary contract as and from 1st April 2013 and therefore will be unable to offer you temporary employment.”
However at 5pm on Wednesday they received a call asking them to sign a new four-week contract the following day.
In the letter the nurses were advised that there has been an allocation of six nursing posts to the service and they would have an opportunity to compete for these positions in the near future.
Provided that six of the 10 are successful, that would leave four unemployed at a time when the country is devastated by the rise in suicide rates and increase in mental health issues.
“There are 10 people who have been given a reprieve for a month. But I’m not satisfied with that. They should be kept on permanently,” Cllr Kilcoyne said.
In response to a query by the Mayo Advertiser, the HSE has said it is normal practice to employ graduate nurses for a contracted period of time as part of their training and development. “This is normal practice and graduate nurses across the HSE system leave the health service at the end of their contract,” the statement continued. The HSE added that there are no permanent psychiatric nurses at threat of losing their jobs in Mayo.
In announcing the 14 mental health posts for Mayo, Taoiseach Kenny detailed that there would be six whole time equivalents (WTEs ) in mental health teams, four WTEs in child and adolescent mental health teams, two WTEs in mental health services for older persons, one WTE in mental health services for intellectual disability, and one WTE in a clinical programme addressing self harm.
However, Cllr Kilcoyne feels that the Taoiseach was either badly briefed when he made the jobs announcement or the HSE is doing what it likes. “There seems to be no one in charge.”
He admitted that he wasn’t blaming the Taoiseach personally for making a jobs announcement when 10 nurses were told their jobs were axed, but he asked if he was misled by the HSE and what action is he going to take.
“At the end of the day there’s a reduction in 10 people’s jobs in a month’s time. They are just playing Russian roulette with people’s lives,” he added.