February 9, 2012

Nurses take industrial action over assaults at psychiatric unit 191 incidents recorded

BY CIARAN TIERNEY

NURSES at a state-of-the- art psychiatric unit for young people at Merlin Park Hospital began industrial action yesterday over what they claim is the failure of management to deal with an unprecedented level of assaults on staff since the facility opened last year.

The Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) has logged over 190 assaults on union members at the Child and Adolescent Unit since it opened in January 2011, a "frightening" statistic which has impacted on staff morale because of forced sick leave due to the injuries received.

"What should be one of the best services of its kind in the country has been undermined by management's fail- ure to support the staff," said PNA Industrial Relations Officer Declan Breen yesterday. "Our staff began a 'work to rule' this morning with heavy hearts.

"In just one year and two weeks, our members have logged 191 assaults by a small minority of patients since the opening of this unit.

The unprecedented number of assaults impacts not only on the staff trying to carry out their professional duties, but on the other patients in the unit." Mr Breen claimed that the PNA was "horrified" by the attitude of Health Service Executive (HSE) management to staff in the unit who have been subjected to repeated and dangerous assaults.

at the new Merlin facility "HSE management have aclear set of proposals to dealwith this serious problem,but have refused to act onany of them, leaving staffwith no action but to resolvethis matter through industrialaction," he said.

"The more assaults youhave, the more people areout on sick leave. It is a rela-tively small number ofpatients we are talking about, but there just is not enough staff to deal with this problem." In recent weeks, therehave been mornings when only three out of nine staff were on duty at the 20-bedunit, due to the number of PNA members out on sick leave.

Mr Breen said the HSE needed to implement a "zero tolerance" policy in relation to violence which was already in place at simila runits in Dublin and Cork.

The PNA have called for a number of clinical nurse management posts to befilled, internal policies on violence to be agreed and fully implemented, and agreed staffing numbers to be maintained. They want the number of beds reduced, temporarily, so that the situation can be brought under control.

"There are problems all across the health service, butthis is one we could solve very easily," he said.

"We want to solve this andwe are willing to meet with the HSE at any stage." The union first raised concerns about the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) unit last October, just nine months after it opened. Talks before the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) proved inconclusive last month.

There are 70 people employed at the CAMHS unit, including 37 nurses. Itreplaced the St Anne's Children's Centre in Taylor's Hill when it opened last year, and provides inpatient servicesfor children up to 18 years.

"The HSE has engaged with the PNA for some timeregarding a number of matters and has also participatedin a conciliation processunder the auspices of the HRC, without resolution,"said a statement from the HSE (West) at the weekend.

The HSE is seeking to minimise the impact of industrial action on the children andtheir parents and management are set to meet again with PNA representatives tomorrow (Wednesday) in an attempt to resolve the issue.

Mr Breen said that the PNA was willing to meet with the HSE management at any stage, but warned that industrial action would be"escalated" if managementfailed to provide a safer working environment for nurses.

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