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ADC demands restoration of nurses' pay

The Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) has today (Thurs. April 16 th ) called for an independent review of the Government's ‘Vision for Change' mental health strategy to given an accurate assessment of the level of implementation of the strategy since its launch in 2006.

Addressing the PNA Annual Delegate Conference in Athlone, General Secretary Des Kavanagh said with the tenth anniversary of the launch of ‘Vision for Change' due 2016 it was over three years since there had been any assessment of progress on the implementation of the policy.

‘We need an independent body to measure the implementation, or non-implementation, of ‘Vision for Change'. What was the Implementation Monitoring Group, for Vision last reported in 2012 and has since been dispensed with. Now as we approach the 10 th anniversary of its publication, and with a three year deficit in any review process, I am calling on Minister Kathleen Lynch to put in place an independent body to examine and publish what has, and more importantly what has not been implemented by her Government under ‘Vision for Change' over the last 10 years.'

‘With just a year left for this Government to run it is time for Minister Lynch to get out of the comfort zone where she is happy to talk about the soft issues in the mental health arena and where she is happy to focus on the debates around quality of life intervention. We need the Minister to embrace the world of the seriously mentally ill whose cause needs a champion. She could, before she leaves office, make a real difference'

On the issue of pay, Mr. Kavanagh said Public Service Pay is now firmly back on the agenda and nurses will be demanding full restoration of the pay they have lost in recent years as the result of cuts, charges and changes in work practices which PNA estimate amounted to a 23% income loss.

‘The talks which will commence shortly will take place against a backdrop of the significant cuts imposed in recent years on the one hand and the limited scope for immediate pay restoration on the other. Nevertheless the journey to full restoration must be commenced with meaningful initial repayment accompanied by a roadmap to full restoration.'

Mr Kavanagh said the Government has finally come to the realisation that the cuts in nursing have gone too far and that we badly need to retain and build our nursing numbers if we are to respond to the pressures on the health services.

‘From a situation where the Government and the Department of Public Service Reform were telling our nurses, students and graduates that there was no place for them in our health services we now have the Minister for Health and HSE urging nurses to postpose retirement and graduates to return home to take up nursing posts here.'

He said there would now have to be incentives put in place by the HSE to recruit and retain nurses back into our health services. These include career plans and post graduate education programmes, abolition of the ‘yellow pack' graduate scheme, relocation grants and flexible contracts to attract retired nurses back into the services.

Mr Kavanagh said while violence is not synonymous with mental illness and the vast majority of mentally ill people pose no threat to the community, it had to be honestly acknowledged that a small number of patients present a threat, and sometimes a very serious threat, to family , staff and others.

Mr Kavanagh said that while assaults in acute psychiatric units are infrequent there was a level of assault on staff in some units in the country that must be addressed.

‘The Acute Unit in University College Hospital , Galway has experienced 34 assaults on staff in the first 3 months of this year. This is an incredible record. The implications for patient care and staff morale are obvious. I am now calling for an independent investigation into the management of this Unit.'

‘The HSE Mental Health Division have proposed a ‘National Safety Programme which will aim to reduce avoidable harm in mental health services with an initial focus on acute inpatient car' and I am calling on the HSE to expedite this initiative with a particular focus on the Acute Unit in Galway.'

Mr Kavanagh said he recently wrote to Minister Lynch on the issue of adverse events such as murders and familicide.

‘I am now calling on the Minister to set out:

•  What Investigations follow such adverse events?

•  Is every adverse event investigated?

•  Are the results of such Investigations collected and correlated within the HSE and/or Dept. of Health?

•  What learning has been achieved?

•  What actions are planned in response to that learning?'

He said that while the HSE Strategic Plan for 2015 referred to the establishment of the Incident Support and Learning Team the issue of deaths as a result of killings by clients of the service does not appear to be targeted in this plan. Other proposals for implementation of a National Adverse Events Management System (NAEMS) and a plan to share organisational learning from incident investigations, while welcome, appear completely aspirational with no target dates for implementation.

‘In the meantime and in the absence of a response from the Minister I can only conclude that there is no focussed strategy for investigating all adverse events, no sharing of the learning accrued and no strategy for developing policy and practice based on the knowledge acquired.'

Mr Kavanagh said in parts of the country the issue of assault on nurses was being compounded by the fact that some managers were frustrating the proper implementation of the Serious Physical Assault Scheme. The Scheme operated well for many years with the exception of Cork, Kerry and the West where procedures have been introduced which can result in the nurse's pay being cut immediately after the assault and not restored for three or four months.

‘There are many more examples of nurses seeing their entitlements delayed to the point where the trauma of their assault is compounded by the financial distress caused by the HSE's insistence on complicating a simple sympathetic scheme with procedures which are unnecessary. We must now determine that the efficiency of the Scheme is restored in those areas and managers must be told that they either guarantee the expeditious implementation of the Scheme or face industrial action.'

Media contacts. : Derek Cunningham 0862430535