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Dublin: 18 °C Wednesday 24 July, 2019
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Psychiatric nurses begin overtime ban as Dáil hears they've been propping up services by working extra hours

As of 7am this morning, psychiatric nurses have not been carrying out work beyond their contracted hours.

The Tánaiste said the overtime ban will have a
The Tánaiste said the overtime ban will have a "significant impact on the delivery of mental health services generally".
Image: Shutterstock/Chinnapong

PSYCHIATRIC NURSES HAVE begun an overtime ban in response to recruitment and retention issues in mental health services.

As of 7am this morning,Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) said none of its members would carry out work beyond their contracted hours. 

Speaking about the issue in the Dáil today, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the ban on overtime will not affect child and adolescent mental health services, but will have a “significant impact on the delivery of mental health services generally”.

Sinn Féin’s health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly said the action is being taken because of the lack of progress in talks to address the recruitment and retention crisis that is “crippling the mental health services”.

“If the service was adequately staffed, an overtime ban would have no impact. It is precisely because of the inadequate staffing levels that an overtime ban will have the impact it will.

“This is the same recruitment and retention crisis that forced nurses and midwives across the State to take to the picket line earlier this year. While members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, concluded a deal with the government after their strike action, no agreement was reached with the PNA,” she said. 

In February, the PNA suspended strike action in relation to the same issues. 

Little progress

However, the union said despite over four months of engagement little progress has been made to address the concerns. 

“For over five months, the PNA and psychiatric nurses have been working really hard to try to de-escalate this situation but little progress if any has been made. All the while its members have been propping up the service using overtime.

“There is no obligation for them to do this overtime, but as a gesture of goodwill they have been leaving their families and not being at home when they should be in order to work extra hours just to keep the services going,” said O’Reilly.

Coveney said he appreciated “there is a degree of frustration on the part of the PNA at what it has seen as very slow progress”.

He added: 

I urge it to reconsider this decision to withdraw the availability of overtime and to fully engage with the industrial relations machinery of the State to resolve the remaining issues in this dispute. I am informed that genuine progress is being made although it has been slow.
I would emphasise that the services are reliant on overtime as the Deputy knows well, understanding the sector as she does. The consequence of this decision is potentially significant for patients.

The HSE said it will make every effort to minimise the impact of the overtime ban. 

‘Nothing but respect for what they do’

Health Minister Simon Harris was also asked about the matter today. 

“I know no union takes this action lightly, I don’t wish to suggest that they do, we have extraordinarily dedicated psychiatric nurses working across the country. I have nothing but respect for the work that they do.”

“We have seen with the INMO a very successful outcome where a very significant majority of nurses accepted that deal. We have now seen SIPTU return to the Labour Court and suspend their action which I welcome. I would hope that this could take a similar course.”

“I want a solution to be found and I’m calling on all parties including the HSE to redouble their efforts,” he said. 

“The negotiations should take place in good faith. They do need to be intensified and I think it’s fair to say they need to be intensified on both sides. I’m not laying the responsibility purely at the PNAs in this regard.

“They do need to be intensified, a resolution needs to be found and let’s be honest, resolutions are always found. Every dispute ends in a resolution, but the way you resolve it is not the picket line or the overtime ban in this case,” said Harris. 

O’Reilly said nurses have shown extraordinary patience as they continue to struggle with staff shortages, stating that in some areas of the service, these shortages amount to a reduction of 20% in nursing staff and there are 700 vacancies nationally.

“This was flagged by the PNA last year in the wake of the resignation of three psychiatrists in the south-east due to unacceptable working conditions. The general secretary of the PNA said that shortages were expected to exacerbate significantly.

“To make matters worse the HSE is adding to the problems by maintaining an effective embargo on recruitment and by not offering permanent posts to graduate nurses this year, something that had been done in previous years but that practice appears to have stopped. At a time of crisis this embargo must end,” she added. 

“Nurses take their duty of care very seriously. They do not want to be engaged in this overtime ban. They want to do their job of caring for patients. That is what they do best and train hard for. Our psychiatric nurses need adequate staffing levels to protect their patients and themselves,” said O’Reilly. 

With reporting by Orla Dwyer.

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