Progress on UHW projects – but Cllrs demand Department increase mental health staff

Eoghan Dalton reports

A number of major health projects have moved forward according to a local TD. The 24 beds on the top floor of the Dunmore Wing at University Hospital Waterford are set to become operational thanks to the successful recruitment of staff, with patients and staff to be transferred onto the floor in the coming weeks, said David Cullinane (SF).UHW is also seeking to speed up the delivery of the second cath lab by carrying out tender work in tandem with the statutory planning application process.
Mr Cullinane said the contract to begin building the new mortuary at University Hospital Waterford has received approval and construction will begin in January.Initial work on the site will get underway next month.
The news arose from a meeting between UHW management and local Oireachtas members held yesterday (Monday). While those projects inched forward there was still a reminder of Waterford’s health services which remain in crisis with little light at the end of the tunnel. Last Thursday, November 14, Waterford City and County Council members demanded that the Department of Health commit to staffing increases in the public psychiatric services.

These services don’t fall under UHW management as do the cardiac and mortuary services, instead they are delivered by the HSE through its Community Healthcare Organisation (CHO) for the South East. Councillors voted unanimously in favour of calling on the Department to implement plans outlined in its vision document for the Waterford and Wexford service at University Hospital Waterford (UHW). There are up to 50 vacancies across the public mental health service in Waterford. The vote was “in reaction to the crises that we have seen” following weeks of controversy surrounding patients having to sleep on chairs and the floor of the department of psychiatry. The motion read: “Concrete figures for planned recruitment within each of the mental health professions across the various care groups – Child & Adolescent Mental Health, Adult Mental Health, Older Adult Mental Health, Primary Care, Forensic Mental Health, Mental Health & Intellectual Disability, Long Stay Inpatient and Community Rehabilitation Mental Health Services – should be part of the Department’s response to this council.”

The motion was brought before the chamber in Dungarvan by Cllr Marc Ó Cathasaigh: “We’re all painfully aware of the cardiac care crisis that exists in our hospital but there is also a mental health crisis both nationally and in the South East.”He told the chamber that four consultant psychiatrists had stood down within the last 18 months “in protests against staffing levels”.The motion was seconded by Cllr John Hearne (SF) who had leaked photos depicting the “terrible conditions that people have to endure” on the ward. “I think this an absolutely disgraceful way to treat patients in Waterford,” he said. “For two years the Government knew about this problem because they were told. The [Mental] Health Commission knew about this problem because they were told. The staff were highlighting this during their industrial action.”

There was also a need for more out-of-hours services, Cllr Hearne said. Cllr Matt Shanahan (Ind) supported the motion but said that he would like to see the number of beds increase from its current 44 to cope with demand. On this, Cllr Adam Wyse (FF) said he would “hate if the main feeling of this body to go back to Government that we want more beds – because that’s not actually sorting the issue”. He drew on his visit to a protest held by psychiatric nurses outside UHW where he “learned more about the issue in the 20 minutes talking to people…who serve on the frontline”. “To take the words out of the staff’s mouth, if you give them 100 beds they’ll still have a 110 patients,” he added. “The issue can be sorted by more out-of-hours services.”

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