Staffing crisis means shortage of psychiatric nurses in the county
A severe shortage of psychiatric nurses in County Wexford's mental health services is making conditions unsafe for staff and patients, according to the Psychiatric Nurses Association of Ireland.
The service is currently down 20 nurses on the 140-strong staffing level agreed by the HSE, with up to 14 more nurses eligible for retirement by the end of this year and newly-graduated nurses leaving for better pay and conditions elsewhere.
Of four newly-qualified psychiatric nurses who took up positions during the past year, two are leaving for the UK and a third for Australia, lured by more attractive salaries, working hours and promotional prospects.
According to Michael Hayes, Industrial Relations Officer with the PNA which represents a large number of nurses in Wexford, there is the added staffing crisis since last Christmas of a lack of sick leave and holiday cover for all consultants working within the Wexford adult and child mental health services, leading to the postponement of outpatient appointments.
'Up to Christmas they were managing to provide cover but they have lost more staff. The problem is they can't get consultants and if they do, they're only getting locums who stay for a short period of time. Ireland is not an attractive work environment because of pay reductions and service cutbacks,' said Michael.
'We are running services with an inadequate amount of staff. We are continuously short. We have an overworked and stressed workforce.'
In relation to the need for Wexford people to travel to Waterford or Wicklow for acute in-patient care, the PNA position is that people should have access to an acute psychiatric unit within their own communities but 'unfortunately, the decision makers have said we should have centralised units,' said Michael.
The PNA official said the local mental health service is being run with up to 30% less staff than in previous years. 'That is not an estimated figure. Wexford had 170 psychiatric nurses on the books. The shortage is having a massive impact on staff and patients.'
'Nurses are now working in unsafe conditions. Patients are entering the service later and not getting the service they need on an acute basis.'
'If the care can't be provided in the community setting, the only outlet for people is to seek admission. If there were more staff and more services we would be able to treat people through the day hospitals. At the moment, the services are so diminished,' said Michael.
'There is not a mental health centre in County Wexford that is not under pressure. I have no problem in saying that. Some centres are being expected to lean on others with staff being moved from one to the other. We are in negotiations with management to reconfigure nursing posts to alleviate some of the shortage and match the services as best we can,' he said.
'No-one is talking about the elephant in the room. We have had eight years of no recruitment. We are well past the ticking time bomb and we are now in a crisis, The Government brought in another HSE recruitment freeze in the past few weeks. The problem with the health service is that the abnormal has become normal.'
The PNA official said the only thing keeping the service going is the staff on the ground but 'we can no longer continue to run a safe service with the staff we have. No-one wants to see services close but we can't run them with the numbers we have.'
'You can't tell someone who is suicidal, sorry I can't talk to you now, I'm busy, you have to try to help them straight away. We've had more and more assaults on nurses because of the shortages and delays.'
'If the Government is really serious about mental health, it will face up to the real problems and spend money to sort them out. If we don't have a proper health care system, we're never going to have a healthy and happy society', he said.