Hospital workers set to strike in row over staff numbers
More than 400 staff at one of Dublin's largest psychiatric hospitals are set to take industrial action over major staffing shortages that have hit services.
A nurses' ballot at Saint Ita's Hospital in Portrane, north County Dublin, is expected to approve work-to-rule industrial action in protest against the shortages at the St Joseph's Centre for intellectual disability within the hospital.
According to the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) there was a Labour Relations Commission agreement between them and the hospital to increase staffing numbers to 274, but two years on the total number is at 240.
St Joseph's, which has 10 other community housing facilities across north Dublin catering for people with intellectual disabilities, is one of the largest intellectual disability units in the country.
The PNA listed different ways the staffing shortages impacted on staff, which has already led to the resignation of two staff members.
They said the lack of staff meant that the continuity of care was affected, there were closures and reductions in services, cancellation of mandatory training and the health, safety and welfare of patients and staff were compromised.
There has also been a notable increase in stress levels among staff, with the added workload affecting their morale - while nurses looking to further their professional development have also been denied the opportunity.
The situation was intolerable, according to PNA branch secretary Michael Guilfoyle. "St Joseph's is recognised under the Mental Health Commission as an approved centre for dual diagnosis - mental health and intellectual disability.
"Yet the community houses there are losing nursing staff who are then replaced by Health Care Assistants (HCAs), which impacts on the clinical care needs of clients," said Mr Guilfoyle.
He also said that there was a growing number of staff looking for transfers or jobs in other services due to stress levels.
"Two permanent nursing staff members have resigned after being denied a career break for a children's nursing course in Temple Street due to staff shortages," said Mr Guilfoyle.
The expected work-to-rule action will result in staff not taking phone calls, not being flexible with working hours and not being flexible outside of their core duties.
In a response to potential industrial action, the HSE told the Herald that they are attempting to mitigate the risks.
"The safety and ongoing care of our residents in St Joseph's Intellectual Disability Services is an ongoing priority for the HSE," said a spokeswoman.
"HSE management has been working closely to mitigate any risks due to staffing vacancies at St Ita's Hospital.
"A number of actions have been taken, including maximising the use of all agency nursing staff and the nursing bank. There is also an active focus on recruitment to fill the vacancies," she added.
However, Mr Guilfoyle said they were left with no option but to ballot on industrial action.
"Nurses feel they are being left with no option but to embark on industrial action," said Mr Guilfoyle.