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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Alamy The PNA said the closure is a "direct result" of a failure to recruit and retain psychiatric nursing staff.

Closure of psychiatric unit in St James's Hospital labelled 'seriously concerning' by nurses

The unit equates to almost half of the available beds for the mental health services in St James’s Hospital.

THE CLOSURE OF a 16-bed psychiatric unit in St James’s Hospital in Co Dublin will have a “serious impact on the provision of mental health services in the Dublin area”, according to the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA).

The PNA said the closure is a “direct result” of a failure to recruit and retain psychiatric nursing staff in order to maintain services, which Hughes labelled an “extremely worrying development”.

The decision to close the unit, known as the Beckett Ward, has come due to a number of staffing issues the mental health services, such as the “failure to recruit and retain sufficient psychiatric nursing staff to maintain services”, according to the PNA.

A spokesperson for Community Healthcare in Dublin South, Kildare, & West Wicklow told The Journal that the “temporary” closure is in relation to challenges in “hiring and retaining the nursing staff needed to operate” the units at full capacity.

PNA General Secretary Peter Hughes said that the situation has become so serious that, instead of curtailing services due to lack of staff, decisions have been made to fully close the units.

Hughes labelled this shift as an “extremely worrying development” for those working in, and attempting to avail to, mental health services in the area of Dublin south.

The closure comes after 11 beds in the Linn Dara Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS) Unit, in Cherry Orchard, Co Dublin, has not re-opened. 

Hughes added that the loss of the beds in St James’s and the “failure” to re-open the CAHMS facility will have a “serious impact on the delivery of services” in the area.

A spokesperson for the Community Healthcare Office told The Journal: “Unfortunately it is not possible to give a specific reopening date for the affected centres. The situation remains under constant review.”

Hughes said he believes both closures will have a “knock-on effect of increasing demand for services in other parts of Dublin”.

A PNA national survey of late last year revealed 700 psychiatric nursing staff vacancies in mental health services throughout the country. Hughes said that if these staffing issues continue, it will further “hinder the provision of mental health services”.

A spokesperson for the community care group said that both facilities affected by temporary bed closures will continue to process those being referred for inpatient admission. 

They added that the facilities will work withpublicly funded inpatient serivces, and others in the private sector, to “mitigate the situation” for the time being.

“The situation is being reviewed on a constant basis, with the intention of returning to full capacity as soon as that is possible,” the spokesperson added.

Staffing efforts

The unit, which plans to close on 21 August, equates to almost half of the available beds for the mental health services in St James’s Hospital, PNA’s General Secretary Peter Hughes told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

Hughes said on Morning Ireland: “It’s inconceivable when the demand for mental health services is increasing, that instead of expanding and developing services, the HSE are closing services, which is going to have serious consequences for patients, families and the wider community.”

While the closures have been attributed to a lack of staff retention, the flow of students entering the career is “steady” but is not enough, according to the general secretary.

“This is a problem that is not going to go away, it needs to be addressed. We need to train, we need to have a targeted recruitment campaign and we need to compete with the private sector and with overseas, particularly Australia and Canada,” Hughes said.

Mark Ward, Sinn Féin TD for Dublin Mid-West, and the party’s spokesperson on mental health, said the closure of the Beckett Ward is “yet another body blow” for mental health services in the country.

The closure of mental health beds during a mental health emergency is inexcusable.”

Ward called on the HSE and government to come up with “targeted solutions and incentives” to encourage the recruitment and retention of staff, particularly in Dublin.

The spokesperson told The Journal: “The HSE is currently running national and international recruitment campaigns for Psychiatric Nursing staff, and we are also seeking to recruit from graduate programmes.”

They added that the HSE is “exploring every possible avenue to recruit and hire Psychiatric Nursing staff”.

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