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The one Roscommon nurse out on sick leave was assaulted by patient, says PNA

The Psychiatric Nurses Association denies the Taoiseach’s claims that a staffing crisis at Roscommon County Hospital’s psychiatric unit has been caused by sick leave.

THE PSYCHIATRIC NURSES Association has strenuously denied government and HSE claims that the staffing crisis at Roscommon County Hospital’s psychiatric unit has been caused by sick leave.

According to the PNA, there has been one nurse out on long-term sick leave recently and that is a result of a workplace assault which occurred two months ago.

The nurse was seriously injured during an incident on the ward on 14 April and has been undergoing rehabilitation since that date.

“It is obviously very upsetting for this staff member – who is recovering at home – to have it discussed in the Dáil that she is the problem,” PNA National Secretary, Noel Giblin, told TheJournal.ie. “It is very low.”

Staff nursing levels have dropped from 111 in 2009 to 58 this year. Despite three short-term contracts being handed out by the HSE and an attempt to hire agency staff, the 22-bed ward was closed to admissions last weekend.

In recent days, the PNA has highlighted the crisis in the service by outlining a string of dangerous incidents that have occurred at the hospital. It has called on the government to intervene to ensure the “people in Roscommon have access to properly staffed and resourced psychiatric services that they can have confidence in”.

The HSE and the Taoiseach have claimed there are adequate levels of staff in the area, with Enda Kenny telling the Dáil this morning:

As I understand it there are adequate nursing levels at HSE West. They are inequitably distributed across region, and that’s why this has to be addressed by deployment.

I understand from the HSE that Roscommon Psyciatric Unit has experienced high levels of sick leave in recent weeks, and to compensate this acute psychiatric services are being run across Galway and Roscommon.

Dr Amanda Burke, Executive Clinical Director of Mental Health Services for Roscommon and Galway, also denied a staffing crisis this morning.

The statements were strongly criticised by the PNA, which represents the vast majority of psychiatric nurses across the country.

“[Dr Burke] was clear this morning that there was no staffing crisis…that there were sufficient staff to provide excellent care. If this is the case, what has gone wrong?” Giblin asks.

Why was there a fire on the ward? Why was there an in-unit suicide? Why have the gardaí been called twice? Why was a member of staff severely injured in an assault?

Tragedy

The death of mum-of-two Sinéad McPartland Brennan sparked calls for a full inquiry into the state of the mental health services across Roscommon and a public meeting attracted about 100 concerned locals, all urging the Minister for State Kathleen Lynch to take action.

The 38-year-old mother to twins died after being admitted to the care of Roscommon County Hospital. Her family have requested a full probe into the circumstance surrounding her death as they believe the unit was understaffed when Sinéad took her own life.

The tragedy came in the wake of a number of other events connected to the transfer of patients from St Luke’s Psychiatric ICU in Ballinasloe. According to the PNA, a number of the patients are not suitable for admission to a non-secure ward such as the one in Roscommon.

“One would not have been admitted to Ballinasloe’s admission unit due to the acuity of his illness,” explained Giblin, adding that many of the patients in the 22-bed ward in Roscommon now need one-on-one and sometimes two-on-one care.

In another incident, all three of the nurses on the night shift were deployed to one patient (who had been transferred to the ward from Ballinasloe’s secure unit). While they were assisting each other during the altercation, a second patient set fire to an item of her clothing and burnt herself.

Closed to ‘suicidal man’

Last weekend, the Acute Psychiatric Services Unit at Roscommon County Hospital was closed to admissions because there was not adequate staff numbers, a move which lead to one ‘suicidal’ man being turned away from the campus.

The patient, who described himself as suicidal to Ciara McCaughley in the Roscommon Herald, was eventually taken to Galway Hospital (following a garda intervention) but was discharged against his wishes on Saturday. He said he had seen spare beds in the Roscommon unit but knew there wasn’t “enough staff”.

It is not the first time a staffing shortage has led to problems. Earlier in the year, three patients were transferred out of the ward at 11pm because of critical understaffing.

“The default position for the HSE is to blame sick leave,” said PNA spokesman Derek Cunningham. “The reality is that nobody disputes the fact there have been very serious incidents. The PNA is not crying wolf.”

He also explained that the absence of one nurse on a day should not cause a full-blown crisis. “There should be a system to account for that, it should be built in,” he told TheJournal.ie.

The HSE were contacted for comment but had not responded at time of publication.

Update: Thursday, 10.45am

The HSE has told TheJournal.ie that there are currently three nurses marked as absent on certified sick leave at the acute unit.

A further three staff are on maternity leave and were not replaced.

Related: ‘Suicidal man’ is turned away from Roscommon Psychiatric Unit >

Read: ‘You’ve done nothing’: Calls for junior minister Kathleen Lynch to resign >

More: ‘High levels of sick leave’ at Roscommon psychiatric unit, Taoiseach says>

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