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'It's alarming': Concerns raised about impact of recruitment freeze on mental health posts

In the last decade, the demand on mental health services in Ireland has increased but the number of posts has remained relatively static.

shutterstock_731147215 File photo Source: Shutterstock/Chinnapong

CONCERNS HAVE BEEN raised about the impact a recruitment freeze in the HSE is having on the number of full-time mental health posts.

There were 9,977 whole-time equivalent mental health posts filled across Ireland as of last month – just 68 higher than in July 2009.

In the last decade, the demand on mental health services has increased but the number of posts has remained relatively static.

Three regions – CHO Area 1, which takes in Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, West Cavan, Cavan and Monaghan; CHO Area 3, which comprises Clare, Limerick, North Tipperary and East Limerick; and CHO Area 5, which represents South Tipperary, Carlow/Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford – have fewer posts now than 10 years ago.

However, the number of positions has increased in other areas. 

hse Source: HSE

As previously reported by TheJournal.ie, an ongoing recruitment freeze has prevented the HSE from filling positions across the health sector, including in mental health. Some people who were offered jobs months ago have still not started work.

In September 2018, the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) said there were up to 700 nursing vacancies in mental health services across the country.

The latest figures relating to mental health posts were released by the HSE to TD Pat Buckley.

Buckley, Sinn Féin’s mental health spokesperson, said the static nature of the figures is “particularly alarming when you consider that not a single newly qualified nurse will be offered a permanent contract by the HSE this year”.

“We know there are 700 vacancies in mental health and that a recent recruitment drive has been scrapped while we continue to spend millions on agency staff,” Buckley told TheJournal.ie.

Over the last 10 years demand on mental health services has skyrocketed. More and more people are coming forward looking for help.

In May, the PNA said it expects that 34% of its members will be retired by 2021, sparking concerns about the number of staff who will need to be replaced.

“We need to open recruitment properly and make work in mental health an attractive option for young Irish people. This can’t be done if a prospective student knows they will likely not have a job after four years studying,” Buckley said.

Recruitment freeze 

A spokesperson for the HSE said the recruitment freeze is in place to ensure the organisation “is demonstrating that it is living within the available resources provided to it by government”.

“This does mean that in some Hospital Groups and Community Healthcare Organisations non-critical replacement posts will be paused.

The preference is for these controls to remain in place for as short a period as necessary, with ongoing review until there is satisfactory evidence of traction and delivery of balanced financial plans from Hospital Groups and CHOs.

The spokesperson said the current recruitment controls were considered by the HSE’s Executive Management Team on 13 August last, where the health service’s June 2019 performance was considered.

Following that review, the freeze is set to remain in place “until there is satisfactory evidence of traction and delivery of balanced financial plans” from hospital groups and CHOs, they said. 

There is ongoing capacity for recruitment of newly funded posts and replacement of critical clinical posts within frontline services, including mental health nursing posts.

“There is also currently an open recruitment campaign for staff nurses and clinical nurse specialists to staff the new national forensic mental health service, which is currently being built in Portrane,” the spokesperson said.

They added that, in the HSE’s community services, the number of people working in nursing grades has grown by 131 whole-time equivalent posts to date in 2019.

In acute hospitals, staff numbers have grown by 967 posts to date this year, of which 519 are nursing staff grades. Since May 2018, overall staff numbers in acute hospitals have grown by 2,078 whole-time posts.

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Órla Ryan

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