Thursday, 11 July 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
On my behalf and on behalf of Sinn Féin, I offer our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of Brendan Grace and Noel Whelan, two men who are gone far too soon. Both of them made not inconsiderable contributions to public life.
The members of the Psychiatric Nurses Association, PNA, have begun an overtime ban. This is happening 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 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.
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.
I am sure the Tánaiste will accept that nurses have shown extraordinary patience as they continue to struggle with staff shortages. In some areas of the service, these shortages amount to a reduction of 20% in nursing staff and there are 700 vacancies nationally. That is not sustainable in a vital area of our health service where demand is growing all the time. 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.
There is a premium for overtime: it is more expensive than regular hours. 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. They have been more than patient and the Government has relied on their goodwill for far too long. If the recruitment and retention crisis in mental health is to be addressed and the goodwill of psychiatric nurses restored, it requires a clear demonstration of urgency and commitment from the HSE. I call on the Minister for Health to act with urgency to address this situation. What actions will the Government pursue to ensure this dispute is resolved?