Nearly 600 mental health nurses are off sick because of COVID-19, the Psychiatric Nurses Association has said.
The association warned the current situation is unsustainable and says members have complained that their workplaces are no longer safe:
“The reality is that there is a huge reliance, an unsustainable reliance, on overtime and staff good will to maintain rosters and staffing.
“There are closures and curtailment of services,” General Secretary Peter Hughes told Newstalk.
“And then the knock-on of redeployment of staff from various other parts of the service, is staff are exposed to unsafe work environments.”
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has also recently warned that the health service currently "can't cope" and Mr Hughes said one way for the Government to tackle the situation would be to prioritise nurses for PCR tests.
“I think from a staffing point of view, what could help is to prioritise our nursing staff [with] testing and also to provide antigen tests would be helpful as well.
“We hope that the situation does not get worse. I think there will be flows of people coming back from duty and then, maybe, unfortunately other people having to be absent again because of COVID related issues.”
Furthermore, there are concerns within the profession that large numbers of psychiatric nurses will emigrate when they qualify and Mr Hughes added that student nurses had been poorly treated during the pandemic:
“We already had significant shortages within the mental health services and this is further exacerbating the situation,” he said.
“I think, as it turned out, our student nurses since the pandemic, I think, have been poorly treated.
“We’ve had to hold campaigns to ensure that they’re rewarded for the work they’re doing. That was a very difficult campaign and unfortunately I think some of our students may be quite aggrieved by that.”
The health service is not alone in dealing with staff shortages; the huge numbers of people catching Omicron means that certain jury trials have been delayed and a number of pharmacies have had to reduce their opening hours.
An Post has also said its services are under strain as it grapples with “a significant increase in COVID-19 related absences”.
Main image: A nurse holding an elderly patient’s hands. Picture by: pikselstock / Alamy Stock Photo.