Psychiatric nurses at University Hospital Galway will begin industrial action next week in a bid to ensure a safer environment for staff and patients at the hospital's acute psychiatric unit.
Some 90 per cent of staff in the Galway West mental health services voted two weeks ago in favour of taking action on Tuesday next after their union, the Psychiatric Nurses Association, served notice on the Health Service Executive.
They will begin with a work-to-rule and progress up to and including strike action if necessary, according to union spokesperson Peter Hughes. He says the move is in response to what he claims is the failure of HSE management to address staffing and safety issues at the unit.
Ten nurses did not take up duty at the hospital on the morning of April 22 on health and safety grounds - there have been 36 assaults on staff this year.
Mr Hughes, the PNA's industrial relations officer, said at the time that this figure was "unprecedented" in an acute mental health facility anywhere in Ireland. He said the "normal" level of assaults is "nothing near" this. He outlined there are 45 patients in the unit, five of whom require one-to-one special nursing care. Continuing staff shortages coupled with the lack of a high observation and intensive care rehabilitation unit for clients with more challenging behaviour is at the root of the problem, according to the nursing union official. If this facility were available the number of clients requiring one-to-one care would be reduced and it would take pressure off admission beds, he explained. In addition clients would be treated in a safer and more therapeutic environment, he stated.
Speaking to this newspaper yesterday (Wednesday ) he said that despite having served notice on the HSE a fortnight ago his union has not had any contact from the health authority.
Labour Relations Commission (LRC ) talks, involving both the Psychiatric Nurses Association and the HSE, on staffing and health and safety issues at UHG, collapsed on April 28.
Mr Hughes claimed this followed a warning by HSE management of sanctions against the 10 nurses who did not take up duty at the unit on Wednesday April 22.
"Psychiatric nurses have been left with no option but to move to industrial action following the breakdown of the LRC talks," he outlined. It is regrettable that nurses have to take this action to ensure their safety and that of their patients which is clearly the responsibility of the HSE. We are looking for the HSE to withdraw their threats of sanctions and look to engage with us. "
He pointed out nurses at the psychiatric unit were facing "a lot" of tension daily. "The situation is much the same there. The safety concerns have been going on for a number of months. Even if things do settle for a short period there will be flare-ups again."